The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them.
As governments, international agencies, global corporations and institutions grappled to keep pace with the spread of Covid-19, it is the scientific community that has provided us with guidance, evidence and grounded recommendations. In circumstances that would not have seemed possible just a few days ago, the Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer have stood tall, citing the best evidence they have and seeking to be both reassuring and stark in their assessment of the risks and challenges that lie ahead. Now, we all need to adapt temporarily to a different way of living our lives, of working and of learning.
As many who have worked in central government will testify, the pace is frenetic at the best of times. In a time of crisis, it becomes a mind-blowing blur powered by adrenaline, caffeine and nervous energy. In a cauldron of political interference, public perceptions and media interpretation, the Government has sought to stand behind the scientific evidence. In such a dynamic environment it is difficult to make any assessment of the efficacy of the decision making (especially at this point). But through different channels and at different times there has been a willingness to open up the scientific workings to wider scrutiny.
The actions of governments will be critical to save lives, but so too are the actions of educational institutions, researchers and individuals. Many institutions have had to respond to the evolving crisis with unprecedented measures at an unprecedented pace. All face-to-face teaching will temporarily cease and switch to online learning; facilities and services are closing or changing; and many staff are working from home. This week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson confirmed that many university entrants next year will start without having taken their final exams. Institutions are temporarily operating in an entirely new environment.
Without doubt, those institutions training medical professionals have a particularly acute role to play. UK medical schools have been urged to fast-track qualifications for final-year medical students to enable them to be quickly registered as doctors to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak. Thought is being given as to how 18,000 nursing students could be drafted in to help at the peak of crisis. Once-competitive institutions have been sharing innovative ideas and approaches on ways to help fight Covid-19. They are driven by the clarity of a shared and immediate purpose: saving lives and livelihoods.
The much-cited soundbites that the UK “punches above its weight” in terms of research excellence was illustrated beautifully this week. A publication from the World Health Organisation’s Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling, which is based at Imperial College London, underpins much of the Government’s thinking on how we best manage and mitigate the impacts of the Covid-19. The recommendations it offers are driven by evidence and modelling, but also take account of the context and concerns that policymakers have. This was not consultancy or contract research, and perhaps I am biased when I say this, but it exemplifies the best of collaborative action: mutual understanding of the other, a genuine exchange of ideas and thinking, and the development of new knowledge and thinking – in other words, collaborative, knowledge exchange.
This article first appeared on Media FHE.