Tackling the challenges of post-Covid recovery

Tackling the challenges of post-Covid recovery

Professor Alistair Fitt, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, writes:

As we reach the end of this academic year, now is a good time to reflect on an immensely challenging year - and how we’re supporting the next phase as we emerge from the pandemic.

At Oxford Brookes, as at every university, we had to change how we did things, moving much of our teaching online, and blending it where possible with socially distanced face-to-face teaching. We were able to play our part too in tackling the wider effects of the pandemic. More than 300 nursing and healthcare students stepped up to volunteer in hospitals, ambulances and GP practices, while healthcare staff returned to frontline roles. Engineering staff made PPE masks from their homes using the University’s 3-D printers, while some students delivered food to vulnerable people or worked as NHS Check in and Chat phone volunteers.

Two weeks ago, I was delighted that one of our students, Courtney Hughes, was crowned Care Hero of the Year in the 2021 Oxfordshire Health and Care Awards. Courtney, who is studying for a Nursing Associate Higher Apprenticeship degree, also received the judges’ Outstanding Achievement Award. Alongside her studies and working at the John Radcliffe Hospital as a trainee nursing associate, she delivered care packages to elderly people during lockdown through her charity Santa 365.

As life within the UK starts to open up, Oxford Brookes is supporting post-Covid recovery on a number of fronts.

Enabling businesses to both survive and thrive through this next critical phase is key. I’m very proud of the business resilience commitment launched by Oxford Brookes Business School. Through programmes, tailored support and opportunities to cultivate long-term partnerships, our aim is to enable smaller businesses to use these difficult times as an opportunity to think afresh and even to grow.

Our research is making a practical difference. Psychologist Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, together with colleagues at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford, has been discovering the impact of lockdown on young children’s development. What has emerged is that children who attended childcare throughout the first UK lockdown gained greater language and thinking skills, especially if they were from less advantaged backgrounds. The researchers are calling for extra, sustainable funding for early years childcare in the wake of the pandemic.

Lockdown also profoundly affected the justice system. The shift to online court hearings is likely to continue at least in hybrid form with some participants appearing remotely. Dr Emma Rowden, along with researchers at the University of Oxford, is developing videos to help prepare those appearing in court from their own homes. The 18-month project, which began in November 2020, is due to start testing two films in focus groups shortly.

Research is also underway in European countries to reduce gender inequalities caused by Covid-19 policies. It includes exploring the effect of lockdown measures on women compared with men in areas like mental health, employment and domestic abuse, and finding ways to redress the imbalance. Oxford Brookes academics are developing an app which will allow participants to capture the real-life impact of Covid-related policies in their country. Funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, the project involves researchers from the EU, the UK, Serbia, Iceland and Turkey.

Supporting Covid-19 vaccine development is critical work and our nursing students are assisting the Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust to deliver Novavax, one of the urgent Covid-19 vaccine trials. As research assistants, they are supporting symptomatic patients, working alongside nurses, doctors and clinical research practitioners to help make the trials a success.

As we navigate the next crucial phase of easing lockdown measures, we face significant challenges yet also rich opportunities to do things differently. I’m immensely proud that our community at Oxford Brookes can contribute to this work.

This article was originally published in the Oxford Mail