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Our Universities Remain Open: Heart-Warming Response to Heart-Breaking Crisis

​April 2, 2020

 

Cardiff Metropolitan University
Students in the Llandaff Learning Centre

 

Our Universities in Wales are rooted in our communities while simultaneously connected to global networks of education, research and innovation. Now, across the world, our international networks of scientists are engaged in collaborative research, working against the clock to develop vaccines and medicines for Covid-19 (the Coronavirus). Contrary to some reports, our universities are most certainly not ‘closed’; we are open and continue to educate and innovate as well as volunteer in support of our local communities and the wider national effort.

Our respect for ‘experts’ appears, at last, to have been restored with a range of scientists now taking to the lectern alongside the Prime Minister and First Minister; the public want to know that the policies adopted to tackle the spread of Covid-19 are evidence-based.

Strong evidence, decisive leadership and clear communication are key in the face of any emergency, not least a global pandemic. Clarity is required when whole communities and, indeed, entire populations are asked to embrace and adhere to radical behaviour change for the national good. But managing our way through an emergency is not just about doing things right; it is also about doing the right thing.

Following accepted principles of emergency management (mitigation, preparedness, response, recovery) we have been planning for business continuity in response to Covid-19 since January, with decisions aligned to our values-driven strategy and celebrated behaviours of Leadership, Trust, Courage and Accountability.

Our primary concern has been the health (both physical and mental) and wellbeing of our students and staff. We were among the first universities in the UK to declare that we would continue to pay all permanent, non-permanent and those on more casual contracts according to their normal salaries, even if they could no longer undertake university work. As an accredited Real Living Wage employer we have also continued to pay our subcontractors so that staff such as our cleaners continue to receive their regular wages while unable to work.

Our decision making has been cognisant of the wellbeing of future generations and in early March we reassured our students in university accommodation that we would not hold them responsible for the third instalment of their annual student residences fees; it’s particularly encouraging to see that all universities in Wales have now adopted this position.

These early financial decisions were accompanied by a pre-emptive move to shift all learning, teaching and assessment online. We saw the cancellation of school exams looming and took the decision that we should do all in our power to maintain some form of structure for our students, many of whom could be in danger of dropping out if they had no real contact with the university from March until September (and we do not yet know if we will be able to resume life on campus in September).

Like many universities across the UK we donated all of our Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), with the majority going to the Royal Glamorgan Hospital. We have loaned two sophisticated pieces of kit - Thermo Fisher 7500 ABI Fast Platform machines - to the new national Covid-19 fast testing facility being established in Milton Keynes. Our Llandaff Campus is now housing the Welsh Blood Service, maintaining blood donation without attending overstretched hospitals. Within the next week we anticipate housing South Wales Police Officers on our Cyncoed campus to help front-line staff unable to remain in their own households. We still have over 100 residential students on two campuses; most are international students unable to go home and some are care leavers with no other home to go to. We have staff members in health sciences who have returned to the front line in hospitals and even our students on the PGCE Initial Teacher Education programme have developed online resources to help parents thrown into the exhausting world of home schooling.

We are all in this together and while there will be a significant financial cost to Cardiff Met we are grateful that we have the skills, knowledge and equipment to be able to make a contribution to the national effort at this time of global emergency. We have done so in ways that live our values and ensure that we remain open for business, although not as usual.

Professor Cara Aitchison, President and Vice-Chancellor
Article originally published in the Western Mail, Thursday April 2, 2020.