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Grand Challenges progress report

UCL Grand Challenges


UCL Grand Challenges are the mechanisms through which expertise from across UCL and beyond can be brought together to address the world's key problems. They support researchers to think about how their work relates to global issues.

UCL Grand Challenges is a key part the UCL Research Strategy, which aims to:

  • cultivate leadership founded in excellence
  • foster cross-disciplinarity grounded in expertise
  • realise the impact of a global university.

UCL Grand Challenges builds on our accomplishment, expertise and commitment.


Our research is inspired by the radical vision of our founders two centuries ago. They understood that education and universities are key to reforming the world and refused to let religious and academic traditions limit progress.

From the start, UCL has challenged our understanding of the scope of academic endeavour and pioneered research and teaching in subjects including law, architecture, medicine, geography, physics, chemistry, engineering and modern languages.

For almost two centuries, our staff and students have undertaken research that has helped shape the modern world. Their achievements include:

  • inventions like the thermionic valve, which made modern electronics possible, the telephone and wireless telegraphy, and the first transatlantic computer network connection, the precursor of the internet
  • biomedical breakthroughs such as the identification of hormones and vitamins, using antiseptic to treat wounds, and understanding of the physiology of nerve cells and their synaptic connections
  • understanding why the immune system can reject tissue and organ grafts, and how autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis develop
  • discovery of the inert gases, including neon, which resulted in the first of 29 Nobel Prizes so far earned by our staff and students.

Today, UCL remains committed to developing and disseminating original knowledge to benefit the world of the future.


Independent assessment ranks UCL's research among the best.

UCL is the top-rated university in the UK for research strength in the new Research Excellence Framework 2014 published in December 2014, by a measure of average research score multiplied by staff numbers submitted. 

UCL researchers received a ‘grade point average’ of 3.22 (out of 4) and submitted over 2,500 staff to be assessed in REF2014, giving UCL an overall research power greater than both the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. 

Other highlights of REF2014 for UCL include:

  • UCL enjoys the greatest amount of 4* (“world leading”) research in Panel A, covering medicine and biological sciences, much of which is conducted in collaboration with our partner hospitals 
  • UCL has the largest amount of academic research activity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics);
  • UCL has the strongest research power and share of 4* research in Panel C, covering social sciences, and overtaking both Oxford University and the LSE for the first time;
  • UCL Economics, UCL Psychology & Language Sciences, UCL Neuroscience, the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, the UCL Institute of Education, UCL Chemistry and UCL Computer Science are among the university’s top research performers;
  • UCL received a ‘grade point average’ of 3.54 (out of 4) regarding the real-world impact of its research, placing it among the top comprehensive universities rated. 

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Recent independent analysis of the Thomson Scientific Citation Index system showed that UCL is the second most productive and the third most cited university in Europe, and the most cited UK university for health research. We are world leaders across the breadth of academic disciplines – from neuroscience to urban planning, particle physics to health informatics and environmental law – and we have an ongoing commitment to innovation and relevance.


As London’s global university, UCL has the opportunity and the obligation to contribute to tackling the major problems facing the world. We embrace and celebrate the outstanding problem- and curiosity-driven research conducted by individuals and small groups. However, we can only address complex and systemic challenges by working together across and beyond traditional disciplines.

We are positioning ourselves to build on our work to date. We are forming alliances and collaborations across academia and with policy makers, funding agencies, opinion-formers and legislators to help realise our vision of developing research with real-world impact.

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Page last modified on 25 jul 14 16:24