22 October 2020

UEA’s response to COVID-19 – and what comes next?

Prof Fiona Lettice (Pro Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation) and Prof Dylan Edwards (Pro Vice Chancellor Medicine and Health) share their thoughts on a speedy response to an unprecedented crisis – and set out a manifesto for the future.  

How do we ensure that we use the lessons learned to move forward positively?

UEA was quick to respond to regional needs as the pandemic hit the UK. Using our skills and expertise we were able to work on practical projects like making face visors and sanitiser, and on more complex research issues around developing COVID-19 testing and understanding the impacts of the pandemic on the elderly and the lockdown on general behaviour, health and CO2 emissions.

So what did we learn from these projects and our response? We learnt that universities in general, and UEA in particular, have a wealth of expertise and skills that can be adapted to meet a unique and fast moving challenge.

We learnt that our staff and students were willing to adapt quickly and flexibly to help where they could and to re-position their research to answer newly emerging questions raised by the pandemic. 

We learnt that we have a great network of partners and collaborators and that they were willing to work together with us on the new challenges we faced. Well, we already knew that, but the crisis really brought this into sharp focus. We also developed and formed new relationships and partnerships to fill gaps in our expertise and skills.  

Which brings us to what happens next. How do we ensure that we use the lessons learned to move forward positively?

We will prioritise the safety of our staff, students and the community – working on a COVID-19 testing programme that builds on the successful pilot project that Earlham Institute and UEA jointly led during the summer. UEA has pledged to develop a Civic University Agreement, which will be a formal agreement developed in close collaboration with regional partners to identify and prioritise ways to work together to help the region economically, socially and culturally.

We will continue to invest in projects that bring the university closer to the broader community through focused partnerships, such as UEA Health and Social Care Partners. The shared purpose and trust underpinning UEAHSCP was particularly important in helping us understand the needs of health and care organisations and how best the university could support their vital work.

We will draw closer to businesses with the help of UEA’s team of relationship managers and specific initiatives such as Gateway to Growth and the EIRA project.

We will continue to invest in interdisciplinary research themes, launching the first two in 2020 – ClimateUEA and CreativeUEA – bringing together a wide range of disciplines and expertise to address key local, national and global challenges. 

And last but not least, we will continue to invest in our amazing staff and students, enabling them to live UEA’s values of Collaboration, Empowerment, Respect and Ambition.

There is no doubt 2020 has been a hugely challenging year. But from hardship comes a great opportunity to build back better, to use a now-popular phrase. And we’re committed to doing just that. 

This is an edited version of an article which appears in The COVID-19 Challenge: Moving Forward Together