COVID-19 The University Community Responds

An email from Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Rathjen AO to staff of the University of Adelaide on 2 April 2020.

Dear colleagues

When we look back on this period in future months and years I believe we will do so, as a University community, with considerable pride.

Today, amid one of the greatest challenges our community has faced in COVID-19, we are continuing to conduct our research, to teach our students, to engage with our stakeholders. That is no small thing – and I recognise the intensity of effort across the University to ensure we continue to do so.

It reflects the quality of our institution, our history of excellence, our recognition that we will always play an integral role in our state’s future. In many ways this ability to continue our mission in the face of such a significant challenge is the mark of a great institution.

Over the past 146 years, our University community has experienced the hardship of multiple Depressions, the fallout of the State Bank collapse and global financial crises, the heartbreak and devastation of two World Wars and the Vietnam War, bushfires, droughts, floods, the global Spanish Flu pandemic, and now COVID-19. In a sense, our ‘normal’ business becomes even more important in the context of such major world and local current events, assisting our community with short-term need while enabling the responses of tomorrow.

I have previously written to you about our progress in moving classes online and the support available for staff.

Today I wanted to take a moment to pass on a glimpse of who we are as a community, what we do and why it’s so important. Staff, students, volunteers and alumni are turning their expertise, research, creativity and innovation towards the national response to COVID-19.

Fighting infection and controlling the spread

  • The University’s international healthcare research organisation, Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI), has published new recommendations for best practice for infection prevention and control to help stop the spread of COVID-19, now being disseminated around the world.
  • Researchers from the School of Mathematical Sciences are part of a national team of experts modelling and analysing early epidemic data to help predict the course of the epidemic and inform the public health response.
  • Professors Tracy Merlin and Peng Bi in Public Health are members of a national university advisory committee which has provided evidence in support of social distancing decision-making and implementation.
  • University of Adelaide researchers, with the Basil Hetzel Institute and the Women’s and Children’s Hospital and other public hospitals, are leading a new state-wide COVID-19 clinical study which will inform ongoing treatment, patient management and future vaccine design.

Technological innovations

  • Researchers from IPAS and ECMS and external partners are investigating the potential for rapidly developing sterilisation techniques for personal protective equipment (PPE) using deep ultraviolet radiation.
  • Staff from Physics, Mechanical Engineering, the Adelaide Nursing School and the Adelaide Medical School are connecting with national bodies to provide expertise on viral inactivation using gamma radiation and the conversion of non-invasive ventilators to ventilators for a clinical setting.
  • The University’s unique facilities also have a role to play. We have registered with government our extensive 3D printing capability. Our University winery is investigating how we might contribute to the manufacture of hand sanitiser.

Student participation

  • Our teaching students are assisting schools to move their lessons online, working in ways they would have never imagined at the start of this year.
  • Our new Fulbright Scholar Monique Chilver is overseas working on a COVID-19 at-home test kit.
  • Fifty student ‘course ambassadors’ are helping our course coordinators pivot to online.
  • An initial group of medical students is helping alleviate pressures in rural and regional communities, others have been employed on contact tracing , and 100 of our pre-registration nursing students are assisting SA Health nursing staff.

Outreach and community engagement

  • The University’s new Head of School of Agriculture, Food and Wine, Professor Martin Cole, chairs a Panel which last week released an issues paper for the UN’s Committee on World Food Security on how we prevent a major food crisis resulting from this pandemic.
  • The CSER Digital Technologies Education team is supporting schools to transfer to the online environment with a variety of resources, guides and open information sessions.
  • This Friday, 3 April, the Elder Conservatorium of Music is livestreaming its lunchtime concerts from Elder Hall, starting at 1.10 pm. Watch the stream on Facebook  or on the Concert Series website .
  • Our enthusiastic and creative volunteers are finding many ways to continue their support online including a Virtual CommuniTEA for international students.

This is just a snapshot of the breadth of our University’s ongoing commitment to our community and our nation. My thanks to all staff, students and volunteers for their tremendous efforts in these uncertain times.

I would like to acknowledge the incredible role our alumni right across Australia are playing on the front line of clinical care and response to this pandemic. Among these are South Australia’s Chief Public Health Officer and clinical titleholder with the University, Associate Professor Nicola Spurrier (MBBS, 1990 and PhD in Medicine, 1999).

I would particularly like to thank the many students who are representing their peers on several of the University’s decision-making committees. I know how critical it is to have student input on the decisions we are making during this time, and I thank you for your commitment to work with us collaboratively.

We know the University’s critical role in supporting the state’s economic and social prosperity and wellbeing will become even more important as we progress through these next months. We are ready to play our part. As a great University community we can achieve great things.

You can stay connected with me by emailing VC Feedback.

Please take care of yourself and each other.


Professor Peter Rathjen AO
Vice-Chancellor and President

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