Vice-Chancellor's UniView column in the Western Mail - 16/04/20
At the time of writing, we’ve just entered our fourth week of lockdown with no sign of the restrictions being eased. It marks the end of what has been an extraordinary month of change for Welsh universities, as it has been for everybody.
Universities are large and complex organisations. The global pandemic and the measures to halt its spread present us with huge challenges. I am extremely proud of all our staff who made sure we responded quickly and effectively to support our students. In less than a week we phased out face-to-face teaching, replacing it with classes delivered remotely. The great majority of our academic staff switched quickly to home working, offering advice and support online instead.
We are determined to allow students to complete their assessments for the year wherever possible. In recognition of the exceptional circumstances, we have adopted a ‘no disadvantage’ approach to the assessments, meaning that any student completing the summer assessments can only help, not hinder their mark for the year, so long as the requirements of clinical and professional bodies are complied with.
Other key University services like student support and wellbeing services, libraries and other facilities that students rely on are also being offered remotely. Again, staff working from home have completed the huge task of moving face-to-face activity on to a remote basis.
Not everything can be done from home, however, and I am especially grateful to those staff whose roles require them to continue to come to campus. Our essential operations and support for students still in accommodation have continued because of their efforts.
We recognise that this has been an extremely difficult time for our students. To relieve some of the immediate financial pressures, those students living in University-owned accommodation who returned home will not be charged for their final payment. I also wrote to private providers encouraging them to follow suit.
Of course, our clinical Schools, especially Medicine, Healthcare Sciences, Dentistry and Pharmacy are closely involved in the fight against the coronavirus. We are immensely grateful to our clinical colleagues for the work they are doing, both by directly working with patients or by providing training and refresher courses in the essential skills needed on the front line.
The same applies to research colleagues like our team of cancer experts who have switched their efforts to searching for a vaccine, or the team who are helping to map the spread of coronavirus as part of a £20m project announced by the UK’s chief scientific adviser.
However, we know that universities face some extremely difficult challenges.
Cardiff University remains in a strong position to weather this storm but the longer the uncertainty continues the more difficult it will become for us all to navigate.
Only last week, Universities UK said that the pandemic threatens to cut overseas student numbers sharply, warning that it will put some universities in financial danger.
This could cause extreme instability unless UK and Welsh Governments can offer additional support to help universities emerge from the crisis able to take on the new challenges that will inevitably ensue. It is incumbent on all of us who care about the long term future of our sector to continue to make this case.
Sadly, our normally vibrant campuses are quiet. For now, that is how it must be, but if we work together, in due course our combined efforts will see them humming with activity once again.