The Covid-19 pandemic has presented the higher education sector with numerous challenges. However, the sector has come together and is certainly playing its part in supporting wider society. The online campaigns #UnisTogether, #unisupport and #wearetogether showcase some of the brilliant work that different higher education providers, both large and small, have been doing.

In this blog, we thought we’d explore some of the ways that small and specialist institutions in particular have already been contributing to the national effort during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Supporting the national effort

Like many other organisations, small and specialist higher education providers throughout the country are directly supporting the health effort both through providing skilled staff and opening up specialist facilities.

For example, third-year paramedic students from the University of Worcester have been recruited to work alongside fully qualified paramedics and technicians on the road. In addition, Abertay University’s nurses have been helping with the NHS effort.

At the same time, Plymouth College of Art has partnered with Makers HQ, a fashion sampling studio, to produce gowns and scrubs from medical curtains for a local medical practice. Arts University Bournemouth has manufactured, with its 3D printing facilities, more than 2000 Covid-19 protective face masks for NHS Staff. In addition, at York St John, a team of dedicated 3D printing experts has joined forces to produce PPE visors for front-line workers in the York area.

Of course, not all support has been directly for the NHS. Sport and Exercise Science practitioners have been helping the nation to stay healthy. St Mary’s University Twickenham’s physio team are helping to up-skill the NHS physios who are working in intensive care units, particularly important to help with patient recovery, and Newman University’s Senior Lecturer in Sport and Health Dr Mark Holland has released some online support on looking after our mental and physical health.

Keeping the country going

We’ve blogged before on the fundamental importance that many small and specialists play in supporting their professions. Sticking with the theme of health the University College of Osteopathy’s staff and alumni have made available free training (via webinars) for osteopaths so that they can provide remote consultations to their patients.

Specialists and rural agricultural institutions play vital roles in feeding the nation, even more important at present. Institutions such as Harper Adams University, the Royal Agricultural University and Hartpury University run commercial farms that are busy with seasonal activities such as lambing, even during the current unprecedented times. Keeping teaching, research and knowledge exchange going in these areas is, literally, feeding the nation. Institutions have actively been supporting efforts on the farms by continuing with student placements.

Supporting professions and communities

The blog referenced above also demonstrated the crucial role that many small and specialist institutions play in their immediate communities. We’ve seen this being lived out in the current crisis. For example, at the Royal Agricultural University the catering team are working with The Long Table, a local social enterprise project, and the Diocese of Gloucester to provide home-cooked meals for the vulnerable and self-isolating in the Cirencester community. In addition, Hartpury University has provided a fleet of minibuses, which are being used for food for the elderly.

Specialist arts institutions have also been getting creative in terms of how they are supporting professions and wider society.The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama has put together a range of dementia-friendly interactive exercises and audio resources for older adults in isolation, as well as an e-resource pack of activities for children who are off school (link on page 20). Whilst the Northern School of Art have launched #WFH. This is an online project where people share their new working from home faces and places – so that the Northern School of Art can put together an online artwork at the end of the virus period, showcasing all the amazing personalities, homes and people whose homes are now their workplace.

To conclude, during this time of national crisis, small and specialist institutions are doing their utmost to support their professions, communities and wider society. It is only thanks to the diversity of the sector that this vast range of support has been possible.

We’ll be continuing to support and showcase the contributions that small and specialist institutions are making in light of the Covid-19 crisis. Please contact ben.joseph@guildhe.ac.uk if you wish to provide us with some examples from your institution.

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