Information for staff and students about online learning, personal and professional development and the new COVID Buildings Task Force. 

Dear colleagues,

We are beginning to settle into our new realities. As ever, I am grateful to everyone for the continued efforts to keep up their work, their health and their good spirits.


The Collegiate University’s unique methods of teaching and learning have traditionally been one of our greatest strengths. In the current circumstances, we are thoroughly rethinking what we can do, and how we can innovate, to ensure that all students are supported with their studies next term.

We want all students to be able to engage productively, where possible, so that learning does not stop even when we are globally locked in. We are also ensuring that we can support staff to teach online, recognising that while some colleagues have significant expertise already, others will be transitioning to online teaching very quickly.

There are many forms of teaching and learning which can be done remotely, and we have experts here in Cambridge to help us. Software to allow recording of teaching has been rolled out across Cambridge so that lecturers can pre-record their teaching from home and upload it for students to access alongside other course materials. This software will be complemented with pedagogical, as well as technical, guidance for lecturers, including on how best to support the needs of disabled students.

We are trialling online supervision for undergraduates, taught and research postgraduate students using a range of different platforms, with very positive results. We are also developing introductory guides and tools to help supervisors. Over the next few weeks, we will be developing other ways to enable Cambridge educators to share their ideas, experiences and resources across the collegiate University.

In responding to this crisis, we are moving faster than ever before in our educational provision. I expect us to emerge much more connected than we have ever been, and with many more options than we have ever been able to offer. It will also, of course, enhance the way we provide welfare and mental health support to our students, as outlined in yesterday’s message.

Personal and professional development

Students and teachers are not the only ones adapting to online learning.

With most of our staff now working from home, this may be a good opportunity for anyone who has the time (if not already too busy juggling video conferences, home-schooling or caring duties) to explore some of the online courses offered by the University’s Personal and Professional Development (PPD) division. Online courses – ranging from presentation skills to project management – are available to all University and College staff with a Raven password, and I encourage colleagues to have a look.

Buildings and Continuing Research

I said in an earlier message that colleagues across the University are looking carefully at the University estate, and identifying those few buildings that will need to remain open, or for which access by a limited number of accredited members of staff will have to be maintained for specific purposes throughout the current COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter sent yesterday, the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation encouraged UK universities and research institutions to look at where it is possible to continue with their science and research programmes, particularly those “where the pausing of activity is either not possible or would severely impede research delivery – for example… very long-term experiments or projects where the time frequency of observation is critical”.

In her letter the Minister goes on to state:

“I am also clear that decisions about what should be stopped or paused will be best made by universities and research institutes themselves, balancing the need to support on-going activity with the requirement towards ensuring the health and well-being of staff and researchers within your care.”

Our COVID Buildings Task Force has carefully considered the Minister’s letter, and how it applies to the Cambridge context, and is satisfied that its own classification of University buildings is consistent with the Minister’s message.

All Heads of Institutions will today be receiving further detailed guidance about the management of buildings. I thank all of them – and indeed all of the wider Collegiate University community – for helping us all adapt effectively and safely to our new circumstances.

With best wishes, as ever,


Prof Stephen J Toope