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COVID-19: “We are looking beyond our campus to explore ways we can use our expertise and insights to help our civic partners refocus and regroup”


As one of the UK’s leading higher education institutions, the University of York already has an established reputation for inspirational teaching and pioneering research. But we are also an organisation with a strong sense of social purpose. Our research tackles some of the world’s most enduring challenges and we care deeply about opening up the advantages of a university education to learners of all ages and backgrounds.

We are committed to these principles right now more than ever. The University, along with businesses and organisations worldwide, is having to adapt to a new normal, transforming the way we work and making plans for a challenging future. As one of the city of York’s major employers and a significant contributor to the local economy, we are looking beyond our campus to local health services, charities, businesses and welfare organisations to explore ways we can use our expertise and insights to help our civic partners refocus and regroup.

For instance, in the early days of the Covid outbreak, our lab technicians and students gathered up medical equipment and PPE supplies from our labs and delivered them to local health services. Student volunteers and staff are making up over 2,000 free packed lunches every day for health workers, and our lab technicians are tackling PPE shortages by using lab equipment to make face visors. These simple acts of kindness and ingenuity are underpinned by many of our final-year medics and nurses who entered the workforce early or volunteered to work in hospitals and GP surgeries, and we’ve contributed to efforts to supply iPads to local hospitals to allow patients to keep in touch with relatives.

We’re working alongside businesses and charities as they cope with unprecedented economic pressures. Volunteers from the York Management School have set up a free business advice service, and a University-managed grants scheme is available for regional businesses wanting to buy equipment that could help them innovate and adapt. We have also set up packages of free online training for businesses dealing with implications of the lockdown – and we are working with City of York Council to help process applications for emergency business grants.

This local focus is combined with the broader reach of our research which is adding new insights to the global effort to tackle coronavirus. We’re working in collaboration with scientists at the University of Leeds to understand the structure of a key protein which could pave the way for possible antiviral therapies; a University of York virologist is leading efforts to analyse the genetic code of the virus that causes Covid-19, and one of our atmospheric scientists is leading a national advisory group tracking data on air pollution during lockdown. Our experts are also studying the impact of Covid on food supplies including looking at the consequences of the pandemic on families in poverty and studying the expansion of government powers and levels of compliance with the lockdown restrictions.

We have also stepped up our access and outreach activities to make sure children caught up in school closures don’t lose sight of plans to take up a place at university. With the help of students, staff and local business mentors, we are running webchats, competitions, events and e-mentoring to help young people from diverse backgrounds consider their options and prepare potential new students for university life.

This is just a snapshot of the work we are doing both locally and globally during a time of unprecedented pressure. It is clear evidence of our civic purpose in action. Our support for the NHS, businesses and our local community through a range of initiatives is making a difference in our city, our region and particularly in our local communities where it matters most. Together with our partners we are building sustainable futures for all.

Professor Kiran Trehan is Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Partnerships and Engagement at the University of York. The University is a member of the Institute of Economic Development.