Universities' response to Covid-19 – autumn update 2

20 November 2020

Russell Group universities have been at the heart of the national response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

From helping to facilitate the roll out of mass testing, to supporting the Government’s prioritisation of education by continuing essential in-person teaching to supporting students on campus, universities have shown the impact they can have on their local and global communities.  


All Russell Group universities have been working with local public health teams and NHS test and trace to ensure staff and students have easy access to Covid testing where they are experiencing symptoms. Many have also now developed their own asymptomatic testing programmes and others are involved in the rollout of Government’s new lateral flow testing. These tests will help provide reassurance to those students intending to return to their family home over the Christmas break. 

Examples of testing being provided at Russell Group universities include:

- The University of Cambridge has a weekly asymptomatic testing programme for all students living in college accommodation (around 15,000 students)

- The University of Nottingham has an asymptomatic testing programme for students and are offering weekly tests to all teaching and support staff on campus

- The University of Sheffield will be offering asymptomatic tests to students intending to travel over the Christmas period via the Government’s lateral flow testing programme

- Durham has been involved in the pilot phase of the Government’s lateral flow testing and this will now be expanded to 75% of its colleges and in central hubs for people who live off campus, so that all students and staff can be tested ahead of the winter break.  


 - University alumni are rallying round to help students who may have lost part time jobs or provide laptops for those who need them through measures like QMUL's Covid emergency fund

 - Manchester University has launched a 24-hour mental health helpline and wellbeing app

 - Queen’s University Belfast is working with Government to support those whose careers have been affected by the pandemic, offering free postgraduate courses in subjects such as Software Development, Applied Cybersecurity and Bioinformatics, teaching in-demand skills, without requiring previous experience

Russell Group universities have also extended mental health, wellbeing and academic support: read our briefing to find out how.


- Imperial have created an app to help people assess the personal risk of contracting the virus and are working with Swedish scientists on a drug that reduces Covid-deaths for elderly patients

 - Nottingham and Exeter will look at the effect of the pandemic on SMEs and find new ways to support them

 - Researchers at Birmingham are developing a nasal spray that protects against the virus

 - Our universities are working collaboratively and building award-winning computer models to unearth the genetic structure of Covid in a partnership between the Universities of Cardiff, Bath, Birmingham, Leicester, Swansea and Warwick, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Quadram Institute Bioscience

 - The Oxford Coronavirus Vaccine is according to interim data effective at preventing Covid-19 and offering a high level of protection. Researchers are working at an unprecedented pace to create new treatments. See more at Oxford’s online vaccine hub.

Follow @RussellGroup for the latest on how our universities are leading the fight against Covid-19 through life-saving research, working with their communities and supporting staff and students.

This page was updated on 23 November 2020 to reflect news about the Oxford vaccine and support for students through testing by our member universities.

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