Universities step up to help tackle coronavirus

Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions are responding to the current global pandemic by offering their resources and expertise to support the national effort and their communities.

Although universities’ most immediate priority since the crisis began has been the safety and wellbeing of students and staff, the closure of campuses and the move to online learning means universities are now focusing their efforts on tackling COVID-19 and helping to mitigate the impact of the outbreak.

Speaking of actions taken by universities to help fight the outbreak, Universities Scotland Director Alastair Sim said:

I’m immensely proud of the way institutions have responded to the current crisis by putting their resources to work in the fight against COVID-19. Amidst all the anxiety and uncertainty, seeing the various ways universities are stepping up and supporting the national effort has been truly uplifting.

The contributions made by universities to the national effort have been diverse but unsurprisingly most are focused on supporting the NHS at this difficult time. From donating much-needed medical equipment, to undertaking vital research aimed at finding a vaccination, it’s clear that universities see tackling COVID-19 as their top priority.

Set out below are just some of the ways Scottish universities are helping to tackle the outbreak. There are many more examples, and likely to be much more as the crisis continues.

Provision of vital medical equipment

The University of Dundee has donated its two KingFisher Flex robots which are vital to the national diagnostic testing programme. It’s been reported in the media that these machines are currently like “gold dust”. On special request from Number 10 Downing Street, the Royal Navy turned up at Dundee’s School of Life Sciences to transport them to Milton Keynes to be part of the national COVID-19 Diagnostic Centre.

A ventilator normally used within the Simulation and Clinical Skills Centre at Edinburgh Napier’s Sighthill campus has been transferred to the intensive care ward at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh to help cope with increasing demand as a result of the pandemic. It follows a recent announcement by the UK Government that an additional 8,000 ventilators will be needed for the NHS as the crisis continues.

Increasing the capacity of the NHS

With guidance from the General Medical Council, the University of Aberdeen has brought forward the graduation date of final year medical students who have completed the necessary academic requirements so that they can be available to respond to the needs of the NHS. Students from health care, biomedical sciences, and other areas have also come forward to assist wherever they are required. 

Many institutions are also mobilising final year nursing students to move to the frontline and aid health service staff during the crisis. Glasgow Caledonian University’s cohort of student nurses will be offered paid work with the NHS to ensure their degree is completed and allow them to contribute to the fight against Covid-19.

Groundbreaking research

The University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research (CVR) is at the heart of COVID-19 research in the UK. The Centre has been named as one of 13 key centres in a pan-UK alliance of scientists collaborating on a range of research areas related to the new coronavirus. One of only two facilities involved in Scotland, the CVR will play a key role in the new £20m COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium use its labs to sequence the genome of the virus from confirmed Scottish patients.

A new expert group providing additional scientific analysis of the impact of COVID-19 in Scotland is chaired by the University of Edinburgh’s Professor Andrew Morris. The COVID-19 Advisory Group was announced by the First Minister on 25 March 2020 and will provide the Scottish Government with scientific advice to further strengthen modelling informing national and local decisions in Scotland during the pandemic. Professor Morris will be supported by vice chair, Professor David Crossman, Dean of Medicine at the University of St Andrews.

A sense of community

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland kick-started a new online creative community to spread joy and combat isolation by showcasing work, ideas and conversations from students, staff and alumni via the new RCSatHome platform. Within RCSatHome will be a weekly concert strand, RCS Presents …,  dedicated to live and curated performances from musicians and artists across the globe.

Colleges across the University of the Highlands and Islands network have boosted foodbank stocks by donating unused produce from their canteens. With campuses closing to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, catering staff at all college partners have gifted scarce foodstuffs including fruit, vegetables, pasta, milk, bread and eggs to charities around the region.

Cath Seeds, Programme Leader for Countryside Management in SRUC’s South and West Faculty, has recorded virtual classes on social media to support people home-schooling children and has been offering ideas for classes in the subjects that she teaches. Cath is also creating virtual field trips for her own students who can’t join in person due the Government’s restrictions on movement.