Update for staff and students on testing, the academic year 2020/21, University finances, the summer period, graduations, re-opening, and more.

Dear all,


The University and Colleges are preparing to welcome students to Cambridge for the next academic year. Central to that preparation is making every effort to ensure that our city is as safe as it can possibly be in the current circumstances.

It is important that all our staff and students are aware that, in partnership with Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the University is offering diagnostic swab tests to all University and College staff experiencing symptoms suggestive of COVID-19. From 29 June, this will also be offered to all University students.

In particular, we would like to test anyone experiencing fever, cough, a change in their sense of smell or taste, or any other 'flu-like symptoms such as sore throat or muscle aches. At the moment, these swab tests are being carried out on the Addenbrooke’s site. An additional walk-in testing facility will open at the Department of Engineering on June 29. I am deeply grateful to those colleagues who have made this possible.

An effective system of testing and tracing is fundamental to help us understand the extent of community infection, and, in collaboration with Public Health England, to help us take swift action to prevent further spread of the virus. Data obtained through the University’s testing facilities, combined with public health guidance, will help us make Cambridge a safer place for all.

Information about testing for University and College staff and students can be found here.

A new academic year

Professor Graham Virgo, our Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), wrote earlier this week to current students, with a similar message sent to undergraduate and postgraduate offer holders, offering detailed information about the academic year 2020/2021.

I wish to emphasise, once again, that Cambridge will be open to students next academic year. The academic year will start as normal and term dates will not be changed, though students are advised to wait for further advice from Colleges before confirming international travel plans. Teaching will be delivered by a blend of in-person and online teaching, and we will adapt our teaching methods to achieve this. The colleges are all planning to enable as rich a student experience as possible in these unusual times.

It is our aim that all students who require it for their studies will have sufficient and suitable access to research and learning facilities – subject to the restrictions of social distancing. In our efforts to minimise risk to our community, all University and College buildings will be risk-assessed and managed on an ongoing basis, following government guidelines and advice.

We will promote health and infection control measures across the entire collegiate University. As many students as possible will be given accommodation in their own College. The Colleges and the University are working closely together to help all our students find accommodation within the University or in Cambridge. I ask students who have not already done so to read Prof Virgo’s message.

University finances and pay restraint

On Tuesday I wrote to all University-employed staff updating them on important pay restraint measures approved this week by the University Council. The measures described in this message apply to the academic University, and not to colleagues employed by the Colleges, Cambridge Assessment or Cambridge University Press. I urge members of the academic University who may not have already seen this important message to read it here.

Slowing down

The past three months have been an exceptionally busy period for many colleagues dealing with their normal work alongside the new demands imposed by the crisis. I am immensely grateful to everyone for their extraordinary efforts throughout this emergency. I am also aware that the current pace of work is both undesirable and unsustainable.

In order to fully and more effectively meet the challenges of the new academic year, we will all need a break. Closure of the University over a specific period in summer, as happens in other countries, is not practical for a University like ours. Instead, the University’s COVID Gold Team is proposing a much-needed reduction in our levels of activity over the summer.

We know that even a modest change to the pace and intensity of work can boost our wellbeing. Over the month of July, we would like to encourage Departments and Institutions to adopt a policy of avoiding formal meetings, inasmuch as is possible or practical, on Mondays and Fridays. Over the month of August, we wish to encourage colleagues to proceed with formal meetings only when they are of an urgent or emergency nature. I hasten to add that this is in addition to colleagues taking their full annual leave, as they are able. We hope that this relative slowing down over the summer months, while not preventing work from being done, will offer us all some much needed space for refreshing, reflecting and refocusing.


Under normal circumstances, yesterday would have been our annual Honorary Degree ceremony. It is one of the ceremonial highlights of the academic year, and an occasion many of us eagerly await. Honorary degrees offer us the opportunity to pay homage to individuals of remarkable talent and achievement, both in the United Kingdom and around the world.

I am saddened that we have not had Henry Louis Gates Jr., Edith Heard, Sir Roger Penrose, Elizabeth Robertson, Sir Simon Schama, Ali Smith CBE, Sir John Walker and Judith Weir among us at the Senate House ceremony, but I look forward to the moment when we are able once again to celebrate them in person.

Yesterday’s ceremony would also have marked the beginning of our season of graduations. The University and the Colleges recognise the importance of celebrating students' achievements in a fitting way. For students who graduate in absence because of the COVID-19 crisis, the University and Colleges’ Congregations Working Group has adopted the key principle of seeking to offer a ceremony in the Senate-House that will be as close as possible to the usual in-person graduation.

Our aim is to make it possible for College cohorts to reunite in their College, and to process together in academic dress to the Senate-House, where those still to graduate will have their degrees conferred, while those who have graduated in absence will have their degrees celebrated in a similar way.

How soon this can happen will depend on when social distancing rules have eased, and large gatherings are again possible, but in the hope that this could take place next year, the Working Group is already consulting with Colleges on a range of potential dates for 2021.

Further information on graduations, and on certificates and transcripts (including how graduates can access digital copies) is available on the University’s Coronavirus webpages. College Praelectors are also writing to their graduands. Students with queries about assessment, the second assessment period and in-person exams (including information on eligibility) can find guidance here.


At lunchtime today I visited one of our recently re-opened University buildings. Joined by Professor David Cardwell, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, in his capacity as Chair of the Buildings Taskforce, I toured the Department of Biochemistry’s Sanger building, in which stringent but creatively applied safety measures have allowed colleagues to re-start their interrupted research.

I was impressed by the collective thoughtfulness and the effort that have gone into making the building both functional and safe. It was encouraging to see everyone pulling together to make the very best of a complicated situation. I am immensely grateful to Professor Gerard Evan, Head of the Department of Biochemistry, and to all his departmental colleagues who have made this happen. My gratitude extends to all those working hard to ensure the safe re-occupation of buildings and facilities all over the collegiate University.

Latest news

Good news came this week in the form of the latest University rankings published by the Complete University Guide, in which the University of Cambridge once again occupied the top spot. It is the tenth consecutive year that Cambridge has been ranked first. One may quibble about the methodology of University rankings, but our University’s consistent performance, and the fact that so many individual subjects were so highly ranked, are clear signs that we are doing something – or indeed many things – right.

Other bright spots at an otherwise uncertain time have been the award of the prestigious Kavli Prize in Astrophysics to Professor Andrew Fabian, and the award of the Wolfson History Prize to Professor David Abulafia’s book, The Boundless Sea. My congratulations to them both.

Tackling COVID-19

Our researchers continue to make very meaningful contributions to public understanding of COVID-19 and its impact. This week I draw your attention to a study by Cambridge colleagues emphasising why, in the absence of a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, a combination of isolation, physical distancing and intensive contact tracing may be the most effective way to control widespread infection.

This profile of Professor Ravi Gupta, a virologist who has been applying the knowledge gleaned from decades of studying HIV to help us better understand COVID-19, is another example of colleagues applying their expertise to tackle the current crisis.

University resources

There is one week left until the end of the ADC’s Online season, which I mentioned in an earlier update, but the season’s output will remain online on the ADC’s YouTube channel.

The Museum of Zoology may be closed, but next week it will be launching its Zoology Live! Festival. The annual celebration of all animal life has had to move online, and will include live events broadcast every day at 4:00 pm. It is a wonderful opportunity for anyone with an interest in the natural world to engage with our experts and take part in “citizen science”.

Wherever you are, the University continues to offer you a wealth of resources to keep you informed, educated and entertained.

Best wishes,


Professor Stephen J Toope