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Universities rise to Covid-19 challenges

Through leading research into developing a vaccine for Covid-19, providing thousands of medical and nursing student volunteers, and supplying specialist equipment and facilities worth millions of pounds to support the NHS, UK universities are playing a leading role in the fight against coronavirus.

Since the emergence of Covid-19, the lives of billions of people around the world have been affected to a level not seen in peacetime. The virus has impacted all parts of society, including universities and their staff and students.

During the pandemic, UK universities, alongside prioritising the support and welfare of their students, have risen to the challenges posed by this outbreak and are committing their resources to fighting back; working alongside government, health services and their local communities.

As of April 3, almost 5,500 Year 3 student nurses from 35 UK universities have opted to join NHS frontline staff. On World Health Day, Tuesday 7 April, university staff and students will be taking to social media to show their appreciation to the researchers and the volunteers - staff and students - doing so much in support of the national effort.

Examples published as part of the #WeAreTogether campaign by Universities UK include: The University of Cambridge is leading a £20 million UK government project, supported by a group of universities, to help understand and control Covid-19; scientists at King's College London are developing a prototype for a ventilator that will be quickly available; final-year medical students at universities have been allowed to graduate early to support the frontline effort, offering volunteer services to doctors, nurses and healthcare workers; and researchers at Brunel University London, Lancaster University and the University of Surrey have developed a device to detect Covid-19 in 30 minutes using a smartphone application.

Additionally, tens of universities have contributed protective equipment to hospitals across the UK, while several institutions continue to produce hundreds of litres of hand sanitiser every day, offer laboratories for testing purposes and accommodation to NHS frontline workers. Medical students have also set up initiatives to support NHS staff, offering babysitting, pet care, picking up medicine and grocery shipping services, and are volunteering at the NHS Nightingale Hospital.

Universities are also offering psychological support to staff and students and exploring the societal impact of the virus with the aim to make coping with the outbreak easier for everyone.

Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: "Universities have responded in the face of this unprecedented challenge with great determination and invention. Coordinating projects aimed at discovering a vaccine or improving testing, providing specialist equipment and university space, or building understanding of how the virus spreads are just some examples of universities contribution to local communities and national efforts."

"The expertise and skills of university staff and students are central to the fight against Covid-19. The spirit and tenacity shown by university staff and students is inspiring and will continue to be vital as we look to come through these testing times and move forward as a sector and a nation."

Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, said: "As Universities Minister I am so proud of the response I have seen from our higher education providers, and the incredibly creative and pragmatic ideas they have developed in such a short space of time. 

"This sector is at the frontline in the battle we are facing – from developing ground-breaking research and supplying equipment, to releasing thousands of volunteers to support our NHS.

"I know universities are also facing pressures at this uncertain time and I am deeply thankful to them for stepping up in this magnificent way to the response."

Professor Wendy Reid, Acting Chief Executive of Health Education England, said: "We are extremely proud of the student doctors and nurses up and down the country who are supporting the fight against Covid-19.

"Thousands of student nurses have already opted to step up into full-time roles and we have hundreds of student doctors applying to graduate early following agreement from medical schools in order to support the frontline effort.

"This is the most challenging time in the history of our health service and it is fantastic that so many students are helping to meet the needs of patients."


1.     A full list of what UK universities are doing to support the nationwide effort against Covid-19 can be found here

2.     Supported by the Medical Schools Council, medical students are supporting the effort through a number of different volunteering schemes

3.     Universities UK is the collective voice of 136 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit:  

Our team

Jo Hindle

Jo Hindle

Head of Media
Universities UK

Luke Lambert

Luke Lambert

Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK

Clara Plackett

Clara Plackett

Senior Press and Social Media Officer
Universities UK


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