by Xinhua writer Zhang Dailei
LONDON, May 18 (Xinhua) -- Universities have a particularly important role in helping build international relationships and should continue to play a key role in supporting partnerships despite the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, said president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manchester.
In a recent interview with Xinhua, Professor Nancy Rothwell, the first female president and vice-chancellor of the largest single-site university in Britain, said the university will continue to build an "even stronger" partnership with China after getting through the pandemic.
TAKING CARE OF OVERSEAS STUDENTS
Enjoying a long history of strong relationship between the city of Manchester and China, the University of Manchester now has the biggest number of Chinese students in all the European universities.
After the outbreak of COVID-19, the university set up an emergency response group in February, long before the lockdown imposed by the British government, and quickly made the decision to move nearly all of the teaching online.
The vice-chancellor said they also effectively closed most parts of the university while maintained a presence on campus, particularly supporting students in the residences, which include a number of Chinese students. And the university kept things going including mental health support, counselling service, catering for students in residences, and put in place regular contacts with students whether in Britain or overseas.
According to the number offered by the Chinese consulate general in Manchester, about 3,000 -- half of the total number of Chinese students -- are staying in Manchester after the virus outbreak.
"We have regular discussions with Chinese Students and Scholars Association, as well as the Chinese consul general and his staff in Manchester. We ask them to alert us if there are students that may be struggling but we weren't aware of," she said, adding that the Chinese students are always doing well in supporting each other through their strong community and the big indigenous Chinese community in Manchester has always been very supportive.
As the British government published its plan to gradually ease the lockdown restrictions, the universities in Britain are also considering steps to ensure both the safety of students and education quality.
"We are starting to open some parts of the campus and research labs as a test area. We are looking at extra cleaning and keeping social distancing. We believe that in the autumn, most of the lectures will still be online, but we are hopeful the smaller group teaching, the tutorials, will be allowed to be face to face, depending on if that will being safe," said Rothwell.
COOPERATION WITH CHINA
Rothwell, also a professor of physiology, co-chair of the Prime Minister's Council for Science and Technology and president of the British Science Association, has visited China many times during the past 20 years, including two visits with former British prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
She told Xinhua that she was deeply impressed by the "strong and incredibly fast" development in China's higher education and scientific research sectors.
"From being a number of years, I would say, China was well behind the West, but now it is no longer behind at all. In fact, in many areas it is leading on. The research institutes and universities are among the best in the world," she said, adding that she witnessed many partnerships being built between the University of Manchester and universities and businesses in China.
She particularly noted the university's strong relationship with the Chinese city of Wuhan, a sister city of Manchester, especially during the battle against coronavirus.
"We had sent protective equipment out to Wuhan and they sent it back again to help us. We also have been working with doctors in Wuhan. They have been teaming up with doctors in Manchester to share their experience and advice in dealing with patients with COVID-19, which is really helpful," she told Xinhua.
Besides, the institute has COVID-19-related researches with joint efforts from Chinese partners. One example is the on-going work with the Peking University in genetics trying to understand all the things in human genes that make some people more likely to get infected while others more likely to recover quickly, she said.
The vice chancellor noted that the University of Manchester has always played a leading role in enhancing Britain-China ties, therefore she sees the prejudice and some unfriendly voices emerged in the British society against China since the COVID-19 outbreak "unhelpful".
"I think it's unhelpful. I see the university as having a key role in international relations generally in building bridges and in supporting partnerships. Together with the Chinese community in Manchester and the Manchester China Institute, we're not listening to these voices. We are going to build up strong relationships, even stronger, once we are through the worst of it," she said.
She especially mentioned the Manchester China Institute, which was established on campus particularly for promoting mutual understanding and learning between the two cultures. It is now having a study looking around the social impact of the pandemic, to explore how the British and Chinese public have responded to it.
She reaffirmed that the university is looking forward to welcoming more Chinese students on campus and building a stronger partnership with China in the future.
The university is developing Innovation District Manchester, an ambitious world-class innovation park in the heart of Manchester, which has already attracted big interest from Chinese companies.
"As soon as we start to get back to normal, we will not only start building our existing links, but also developing new ones," she said. Enditem