Cambridge University 'bowing to virus' by going online, says former WHO chief

20 May 2020, 16:59 | Updated: 20 May 2020, 17:04

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Cambridge University is "bowing" to coronavirus by moving all lectures online until next year, a leading medical expert and former graduate told LBC News today.

Medical Director and Oncologist Professor Karol Sikora, who studied Medical Science and Biochemistry at Cambridge, and previously directed the WHO’s cancer programme, said he is "disappointed" with his old university for its "defeatist" attitude.

The institution became the first in the UK to announce it would be moving all its lectures online until the summer of 2021 because of restrictions brought in to combat Covid-19.

READ MORE: Cambridge moves all lectures online

A spokesperson for the university said: "Given that it is likely that social distancing will continue to be required, the university has decided there will be no face-to-face lectures during the next academic year."

Tutors have been told that lectures will be held virtually, including live-streams. However, the institution still plans to hold seminars, workshops and small group-based learning in person with "strict social distancing" in force.

However, speaking to LBC News, Prof Sikora said it was "very sad" to issue a blanket ban on lectures.

"I was really disappointed to see last night that my old university, Cambridge, had decided to pull the plug on lectures until the summer of next year," he explained.

"That is defeatism, you know, they kept open during World War Two and yet they bow to a virus.

"Sure, convert some lectures to online, they should have done that long ago, but the idea that there's no point going to Cambridge now for a year.

"Why should people fork out fees to not go to university? You may as well go and do a distance learning course and use that instead.

"It's just very sad, I think, to have that blanket ban."

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The medical expert branded the decision "ridiculous" when writing in a post on social media.

"Students pay a lot for higher education and need the whole experience," he added.

"It stayed open during WWII - restarting in September should at least be the aim."

Defending the decision, a Cambridge spokesman told LBC News: “The university is constantly adapting to changing advice as it emerges during this pandemic."

King's College Cambridge in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown
King's College Cambridge in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: PA

"Lectures will continue to be made available online and it may be possible to host smaller teaching groups in person, as long as this conforms to social distancing requirements," he added.

"This decision has been taken now to facilitate planning, but as ever, will be reviewed should there be changes to official advice on coronavirus.”

The professor also said he supported nurseries and schools going back on 1 June, even though it is "asking a lot of the teachers."

He explained that it is "part of the normalisation process" and if it is not done then the children will suffer, in particular poorer pupils who could require free lunches.

Prof Sikora said the UK should look at other countries like Austria, which began loosening lockdown restrictions on 14 April, for models to follow.

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