TEFS is about equality of opportunity for all students regardless of background, gender, disability or race.
University: UK: Access: Social Mobility: Government: Fairness: Equality: Equity: College: School: Education: Higher Education: Further Education
Subscribe to this blog
Follow by Email
Search This Blog
A Christmas reflection and the many lives saved
This is not only a time for Christmas greetings but also a time to reflect on the lives that have been saved so far and the work still to be done.
In the spirit of optimism, I will be raising a glass to our shared humanity and resourcefulness this Christmas day as I look forward to defeating the virus and hopefully a fairer new world in 2021.
I hope you can join me in our virtual world.
The TEFS review of 2020 is almost ready but is being held back for now. The events of 2020 have yet to play out and we still fear what 2021 might hold.
In the meantime, here is a link to a free TEFS calendar to download. It has pictures of TEFS postings throughout 2020.
Thinking of others.
Please think of those finding things tough this Christmas through no fault of their own. If you are able, please give to your local food bank or donate to:
As Christmas approaches, and we prepare for the New Year, it is hoped that everyone will be able to have a reasonable break despite the difficult circumstances. Tragically too many have left us this year earlier than expected. There must be few people who have not lost family or friends.
Too many are struggling with their finances as homes and jobs are lost. More might have been done to stop evictions and ensure everyone has enough heat and food as a basic minimum.
But now it is time to reflect on what has happened and what the future holds. There is still much to applaud as we come to terms with the impact of the pandemic. NHS staff, care home workers, keyworkers in transport and delivery, shop workers, teachers, lecturers and many more have found themselves in the front line. Volunteers at food banks have been working at full capacity as the crisis marches on, while most of us who could have donated to them.
Less reported has been the incredibly long hours worked by scientists and laboratory staff in developing vaccines and in virus sequencing and infection testing. The full extent of the massive effort is hidden in the background for most people.
Meanwhile students have attended university and, despite adverse publicity about their behaviour, most have tried to comply with the lockdowns. They now are almost all back in their homes and concerned that the inappropriate use of lateral flow antigen tests might not have worked reliably.
Yet many lives have been saved.
In the middle of all this, it seems the media have mostly concentrated on the infections, deaths, R numbers and now the fear of a new strain of coronavirus. The effectiveness of rapid antigen tests and the time to roll out the vaccines all cause concern.
What is not reported is the very large number of lives that have been saved
Early data in January from China indicated that we were dealing with a very stealthy virus likely to spread widely. We were slow to react in the UK and some dangerous ideas emerged in the meantime.
By early March, before the UK lockdown was imposed, it seems the idea of ‘herd immunity’ was circulating in government. The aim of allowing most people to become infected at a rate that is manageable was gaining favour. This is what Boris Johnson ineptly called “squashing the sombrero” . But without a vaccine the consequences looked very bleak.
To achieve ‘herd immunity’, we needed around 60% of the population to get the disease. That meant deliberately setting this target to lower the chances of spread of infection to the rest. Then, everyone not already immune through infection can be vaccinated later at a lower cost. The hit to the economy would be lessened by spreading out ("squashing the sombrero") the rise in numbers of people off sick or in hospital.
However, many more would not survive, and this target meant that around 390,000 people would die. To put this into perspective, TEFS noted (13th March 2020 ‘Government warning: "Squashing the sombrero" will damage your health’) that even in the deadliest conflict in world history, World War II, the UK didn’t suffer such high attrition with 383,700 military personnel killed alongside 67,200 civilians.
But what we should not forget is that this represents an estimated 300,000 lives saved so far this year.
Celebrating human ingenuity and endeavour.
Simply put, we are the first humans in history to have begun to defeat a global pandemic through knowledge, technology, and informed avoidance actions. Indeed, we are the only species in the history of the earth that has achieved this feat. This is something we should reflect upon and celebrate as we look ahead. Past pandemics took lives while humans knew very little and could do even less to stop or even monitor their progress.
Now we have science and technology to back our efforts. Advances in microbiology and molecular biology since 1945 have been possible in a world that has mostly avoided a major conflict. Rapid advances in understanding microbial diseases have been accompanied by massive leaps in the technology of genome sequencing and analysis. Our current capacity to track the coronavirus would not have been possible without these discoveries. Also, we should not forget the staggering amount of data being processed with computers that did not seem possible less than 40 years ago.
Education underpins our success.
It is right to look at how education across most countries has fed our ability to understand nature and to detect and control the advance of a pandemic. We should remember that our knowledge and understanding comes from a global effort that sees few boundaries. This means the sharing to knowledge through research meetings and publications that are freely available. Universities are at the hub of invention and discovery in most societies and their ability to teach alongside research is to be supported. This is not something trivial or remote as it takes incredible dedication and hard work to achieve for all to benefit.
I will be raising a glass to our shared humanity and resourcefulness this Christmas day as I look forward to defeating the virus and hopefully a fairer new world in 2021.
I hope you can join me in our virtual world.
Mike Larkin, retired from Queen's University Belfast after 37 years teaching Microbiology, Biochemistry and Genetics. He has served on the Senate and Finance and planning committee of a Russell Group University.
UPDATE 8th August 2020 Things are moving fast today with severe criticism mounting about Ofqual and SQA, and urgent action is needed. TEFS has laid out ten points that should be considered to reverse out of the crumbling mess. Fairness should replace 'maintaining standards' as the primary objective. The government must cease trying to defend a system that acts as a barrier to the less advantaged. Since posting yesterday, things have been moving fast. Today the Guardian put the examinations issue in large print on its front page with ‘Nearly 40% of A-level result predictions to be downgraded in England’ . This conclusion came about after some great detective work by former medical statistician, Huy Duong, who analysed the data available and reconciled this with the Ofqual announcement that there could have been a 12% inflation in higher grades. It seems that Ofqual have been caught red handed and "Duong’s findings were privately confirmed to the Guardian by ex
This week confirmed beyond any doubt that Ofqual is pointing the finger of blame for the public examinations chaos this summer firmly at the government and its ministers. The positions of Schools Minister, Nick Gibb and Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson must be on the line. When Williamson is confronted by the Education Committee next week, like Momus he may find his mask has slipped and cannot lay blame anywhere else. He might be meeting his Nemesis and find he is expelled from his lofty position. Called to account. On Wednesday morning, Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, Education Permanent Secretary, Susan Acland-Hood, and Director for Qualifications, Michelle Dyson, will be called to account by the Education Committee. With the redoubtable Robert Halfon in the chair, they will face a hard time. This is because Halfon and his colleagues will be armed with more documentary evidence from Ofqual and others that look bad for both ministers. All of the correspo
UPDATE: Augar Speaks out Today, Friday 8th May 2020, Philip Augar broke cover and commented on the financial crisis in our universities in the Financial Times. With ' The time is ripe to reform UK university finance' he acknowledged that "Covid-19-related disruption may now mean that such a fee cut would be too destabilising" . He is looking to a new post-COVID-19 world and he must be listened to. The likelihood of the government's response to his report last year diverging far from its recommendations looms. Augar has offered alternative options for funding Universities in his article for the Financial Times today (8th May 2020). His input is welcome at this time and the government should be bringing him into the fold again. TEFS has argued for a comprehensive review of university finances that goes well beyond simply looking at students and fees with: "Therefore, a working group involving students (such as NUS), staff (such as UCU) universi