UCL and the Olympic Park: an update from Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice-Provost (Enterprise)

18 June 2014

Over the past four months, we have been working with colleagues from across UCL to develop our academic and financial plans to establish a new campus on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park (QEOP). 

Olympic Park Plans

Under the auspices of the Olympic Park Steering Group (OPSG), we have developed an academic vision, which has been presented to the finance committee and the council as part of the strategic outline case. 

The vision we have developed has been strongly influenced by our recently updated UCL 2034 strategy, which focuses on the long term and has a renewed commitment to working in partnership with and for London.

In this context, the QEOP opportunity becomes even more significant as it presents a unique opportunity for UCL to recast its relationship with London and to fulfill its promise as London’s Global University. UCL East is committed to developing a range of new and highly collaborative activities in the Olympic Park.

An open, connected campus
Our new “open, connected campus” will provide a unique environment for university researchers and educators to work side-by-side with researchers and innovators from other organisations, and with entrepreneurs.

UCL East will have three distinctive features. It will be a place for new UCL activities; it will be open and collaborative; and perhaps most importantly it will break down the conventional barriers between research, education, innovation, public engagement and collaboration. This will be vital if UCL is to provide an outstanding environment and experience for future generations of students and staff.

There will also be a strong focus on attracting experts from across disciplines and sectors, and for the campus to attract and facilitate interactions between large international corporations, small businesses and universities. In short, a university campus fit for the 21st century.

Proposals for phase one

UCL is never short of great ideas and, as expected, many have been put forward for the first phase of development. We have tried to strike a balance between firm commitments to specific academic initiatives alongside a need to be flexible. This will ensure we can respond to alternative academic ventures and the opportunities partners will bring.

Currently, we propose to establish a 40,000-50,000 sq m start-up phase of UCL East from 2018. It will comprise a series of themes, which will bring together cross-disciplinary expertise from across arts, humanities, life and medical sciences, engineering and natural sciences, culture and business.

Building on UCL’s commitment to cross-disciplinary research based upon disciplinary excellence, each thematic area will reflect an expert perspective and not a silo. The campus will provide a place for the creation of new knowledge and exchange of ideas, discoveries, invention and experience. It will lead to new disciplines, new insights, discoveries and understanding, and to new industries. The first areas for development will include the following:

Design and heritage
We will draw on UCL’s existing world-class activities in design and heritage to develop our first dedicated School of Design. We envisage a space of around 20,000 sq m including in it a central space for public engagement and participation as well as a showcase for a new Museum of the Future.

Surrounding the central space will be areas with specific foci including: smart futures and energy; heritage for the future; housing experimentation and urban regeneration; and film production, both screen and performance.
Alongside collaborative research, innovation and public engagement activities, we will develop several new academic taught programmes, a range of Masters-level courses, and we envisage that these will be augmented by a new cross-disciplinary undergraduate programme in Design to complement UCL’s existing design activities.

From the beginning, we are clear that this vision can only be fully realised through collaboration with external partners – including industry. As part of this commitment we expect to develop several new centres for Doctoral training – an area which is already a great strength of UCL.

UCL and the V&A

Our developing collaboration with the V&A will draw together the extensive collections and expertise of both institutions. The collaboration will focus on the dual tracks of art and design (making and fabricating a material world) and heritage (managing our material culture from the past for the future). Current areas of synergy that have been identified are: urban studies, performance, time, new media, digital, word & image.

With the V&A we will develop detailed plans for the creation of a new interdisciplinary centre in teaching and research, under the rubric of materials and making. We will draw together experts from art history, history, history of design, architecture, archaeology, anthropology, engineering and material science, fine art, museum and heritage studies alongside exhibition, curation, conservation and collections-based practices.  We will also create the V&A/UCL lab to combine the practice of production with showcasing and interpretation for visitors.

Experimental engineering
We will also develop a new facility to deliver an entirely new approach to experiential learning in engineering, alongside new facilities for prototyping and manufacturing which will include a new UCL Centre for Engineering Education and UCL Make Space East.

This will provide facilities for large-scale fabrication and through a programme of apprenticeships - which we very much hope will involve the local community - will develop the next generation of skilled technicians. Alongside the opportunities for academic programmes associated with the Centre for Engineering Education at undergraduate and master's level, we hope that the unique nature of the facilities will lead to new research partnership opportunities and further doctoral research programmes, as well as the cutting-edge prototyping facilities providing opportunities for industry and business. In the developing plans, we also hope to establish foundation programmes in areas such as Engineering, Art and Culture.

Innovation

We will create a new centre for open innovation, a unique environment that will allow us to integrate academic research and technology development alongside small and medium size enterprises and other commercial entities. We expect these to be developed in thematic areas such as biological devices, medical technologies, wearable technologies and many others.

This facility, we hope, will also link in with the community programmes offered by UCL Partners through the Ludwig Guttmann Institute on the Olympic Park. This will provide a unique environment for collaboration, education, research, innovation and product development.

Living
This will comprise up to 12,500 sq m, providing innovative living space to attract talent from around the world. UCL Living will provide a glimpse of the future of living in modern knowledge economies. It will comprise space for students, early career researchers and academics, and will be open and engaged with the local community in the spirit of the rest of UCL's presence in the Olympic Park.

Planning and transition
There is much to do in order to turn our vision into full plans. Nonetheless, based on these initial ideas we anticipate an academic presence of more than 3000 students and 450 academic and non-academic staff by 2025, this, we hope, will be a thriving addition to the UCL community.

Detailed academic planning to deliver the first phase of activities will be developed by an academic planning group to be established in autumn 2014.  Ahead of this, the OPSG will soon be establishing a series of user groups to start to develop the technical specifications for the buildings. We will be seeking involvement in these groups from across the academic community in due course.

As part of our commitment to an enhanced experience for our students, we will establish a dedicated student experience user group and expect that the other technical user groups will have very active engagement with their student communities.

Whilst we do not expect the academic buildings to be complete until 2018 at the earliest, we think that there will be real opportunities to establish a presence on the Olympic Park and in Stratford by 2015/2016. Indeed, Kim Townsend from the UCL Public Engagement Unit, has been working in the area for almost two years and Martin Marshall of UCL Partners has led the Guttmann Academic Partnership.

As soon as UCL has made an unambiguous and binding commitment to establishing the new campus, we propose to develop an extensive academic and public engagement programme via the academic planning group. One very exciting opportunity is a Centre for Access to Justice, which will provide access to free legal advice and support for the local community in Stratford and which will be staffed by students and staff from UCL Laws.

Timetable and decision making

UCL is not yet in a position to make a final irrevocable commitment yet, but the programme team is working hard to deliver the information necessary for us to make a final decision regarding this opportunity. The penultimate stage of decision making is currently underway with the Interim Business Case, having been presented to the Finance Committee on 10 June and to be considered by the council on 8 July. One way or another, we will need to conclude our deliberations by the autumn of 2014.

Summary
At the outset, we were clear that for this project to work we had to satisfy ourselves that there is a need for additional space; that any new site can meet the needs of our academic ambitions; that the site would offer a compelling advantage for UCL; and that we could deliver the site on target and on budget. Because of the hard efforts of colleagues from across the academic departments and professional services, we have made excellent progress in collecting evidence which allows us to stick to our very tight decision-making timetable.

Perhaps most importantly, we have a series of credible academic initiatives that demonstrate that should we proceed, exciting new collaborative academic activities will emerge and will enhance the reputation and standing of UCL.

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  • Olympic Park plans