Update for staff and students, particularly those graduating, including teaching and academic recognition, testing, PRIDE, Continuing Education, and May Week.

Dear all,

Under normal circumstances, this would have been General Admissions week, during which most undergraduates proceed to their first Degrees at the end of their final term. It is typically a joyous moment for the graduating students, for their families and friends, and for their Colleges, marking the culmination of years of hard work.

I begin today’s message by addressing those students who would have been graduating over the next few days. The global lockdown may have deprived you of this ceremony, for now, but your achievement is no less significant. In fact, it is even more meaningful considering the efforts you’ve made to adapt to new methods of learning and assessment. We are all hugely proud of you.

For those who will miss their graduation ceremony, the University and the Colleges will be seeking to offer a ceremony in the Senate House that will be as close as possible to the usual in-person graduation. We hope this will take place next year, if rules on large gatherings and social distancing allow it.

The world of work you are poised to enter looks very different to how it did when you started your educational journey. In some fundamental ways, however, it remains the same. More than ever, the world needs talented, creative and committed individuals. More than ever, the world needs the light of scholarship, knowledge and critical thinking. More than ever, the world needs the bright people who will be leaders in their fields, and who will be prepared to face future challenges. You are those bright people.

The prospect of going out into the world at a time of such profound uncertainty is daunting. But if anyone is prepared for the challenge, you most certainly are. And wherever your own experience takes you, always remember that you are not alone. Our excellent Careers Service is ready to assist those of you navigating the job market or seeking out new professional prospects. You are part of a wide collegiate community. Whatever path you choose, you will always carry Cambridge with you.

Teaching excellence

Students are not the only ones who have been adapting to new ways of learning this term. Academic staff, too, have been brilliant in rising to the challenge of moving education online. This adaptability and creativity was acknowledged in this year’s awards of the Pilkington Prizes, given every year to Cambridge’s most inspirational educators. This year’s laureates join a distinguished group of Pilkington Prize winners, and I warmly thank and congratulate them all. Find out more about the 2020 Pilkington Prize winners here.

Academic Promotions

Academic excellence was at the heart of yesterday’s news, published in the Cambridge University Reporter, about the promotion of colleagues to 42 Professorships and 57 Readerships, and the appointment of 19 others to University Senior Lectureships. I heartily congratulate them all for their achievement.


We now have an excellent system in place for testing members of the University and Colleges who have symptoms of COVID-19, including a swab collection site in central Cambridge outside the Engineering Department. Testing has been expanded to include staff at Cambridge Assessment and Cambridge University Press, and from Monday 29 June we will be offering tests to students currently resident in Cambridge. We now also have guidance for managers and college staff as to what to do when an individual has a positive test, in order to minimise the likelihood of the virus being transmitted. Further specific advice on testing for University and College staff and students is available here.

Over the coming months our testing team will be refining this approach to maximise its effectiveness in reducing the risk of any future outbreak and its potential impact on our students, our staff and our City.


June is PRIDE month. Were it not for the pandemic, members of the University's LGBT+ community would have been joining the PRIDE parade in London this weekend. The pandemic has impacted all of us, but has been particularly difficult to anyone facing additional barriers of exclusion or marginalisation. We know that the pandemic has deepened inequalities. We know that lesbian, gay, bi and trans people people are often at greater risk of marginalisation in such crises. I ask any member of Cambridge’s LGBT+ community who is in need of support to contact the LGBT+ staff network, or the CUSU LGBT+ Campaign, which can provide channels for connection and communication.

Tackling COVID-19

Around the world, people are already thinking hard about how to avoid the next large-scale pandemic. A new study, led by colleagues in the Department of Zoology, focuses on diseases transmitted from animals to humans, and proposes the need to dramatically change the way we interact with animals.

I invite you all to read this profile of Dr Sharath Srinivasan, Co-Director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights and Fellow of King's College, whose research on public trust in health authorities in the developing world may help us understand and improve how policymakers can communicate health risk to communities.

Continuing Education

I have mentioned before the University of Cambridge Virtual Summer Festival of Learning, hosted by our Institute of Continuing Education.

The Festival, which starts on 6 July, will feature a range of remote events such as webinars, taster talks, free open talks and week-long courses as well as community events. Teaching will be delivered by Cambridge academics and other invited experts. A series of free open talks will be available to anyone who signs up.

Students seeking a more in-depth experience are able to book places on courses for a fee. These courses will include a variety of live classroom sessions, recorded lectures, and Q&A sessions. We also plan to give a taste of Cambridge in the summer with links to virtual tours, musical events and other interesting features. Students aged 16-18 are welcome to join our Virtual Pre-University Summer programme.

May Week Mega Event

Although there will be no May Balls this year, the Cambridge community is being warmly invited to celebrate the end of academic year by joining in the May Week Mega Event, which will be streamed from 8pm on Sunday 28th June. I hope this will be a chance for staff and students to reconnect and recreate the May Ball atmosphere – and to contribute to a local charities while doing so.

The event will include contributions from more than 300 students, staff and distinguished alumni, alongside uplifting features such as “Heroes of Cambridge”, based on staff and student nominations.

Join us, wherever you are, to capture the spirit of May Week.

Best wishes,


Professor Stephen J Toope