Provost’s Long View: Responding to your feedback on UCL 2034

1 May 2014

Welcome back to the summer term; I hope you all had a good Easter weekend and perhaps the opportunity to relax for a few days over the break.

Scafell Pike

I managed to achieve a lifelong ambition to scale Scafell Pike (albeit via a well trodden footpath) in the Lake District and enjoy the most scenic of views.

Given the intensity of the job as Provost, I have concluded that being physically fit will be helpful in keeping the mind clear and focused on the term ahead. There is certainly much to do.

In my experience, the summer term always seems to fly by, as students get deeply involved in their revision and exams.

Over the break, I also took the opportunity to read all of the feedback with respect to the UCL 2034 strategy consultation.

Thoughtful responses

First and foremost, a huge thank you to everyone – staff, students, council members, alumni and friends of UCL – who came to the open meetings, responded in writing, or used the web-based feedback system.

Many of you have given a great deal of your time and put in a significant amount of personal effort into some very thoughtful feedback, and for that I am very grateful.

Top marks go to the sabbatical officers of UCLU who provided a wonderful set of very helpful comments that will definitely help shape the future of UCL. Again, a huge thank you from me, even though there are a few points on which we may have to disagree.

I also received some great comments from key and distinguished members of our alumni.

Finessing the language

I thought it would be helpful to update you all on the nature of that feedback and to describe what happens next. I think it would be fair to say that the consultation draft needs pepping up a bit and it possibly suffered from being written by committee.

In particular, it is clear that we need to be less wordy, exhibit better skills in the English language and be more straightforward, especially in respect to the vision and mission statements.

The UCLU officers were pretty clear in their views – our vision should more simply be “to make the world a better place”, both globally and more locally in London. Indeed – we will listen to that clear steer.

Broad support

The good news is that most respondents liked the style and the content of the UCL 2034 strategy and I think it is clear that the next draft will retain the current principal and enabling themes.

Most also enjoyed seeing how this all fits together and said how the one-page summary helped them to see the overall bigger picture. The use of the portico and indicative colours helped all to navigate their way round the strategy – but it would seem that the black background and vivid colours need some attention!

Everyone seemed to agree that we will need an accessible and ‘lively’ form of the strategy readily available on our website. It also needs to be punctuated with living examples of our success that reflect the diversity of our institution.

All of that will emerge as we focus, in the next phase, on building the web-based version.

Further development

For the remainder of this article, I am going to focus on feedback about the principal themes. We asked the simple question of whether anything was missing or whether anything needed greater emphasis. Some felt it was too business- and enterprise-oriented; others felt not enough. Well, we did ask!

There was a very clear request to give more emphasis to ethical considerations in our activities and partnerships – this was perhaps implicit, but obviously needs to be more explicit in the next version.

Some felt that we should also be more explicit in identifying different types of students and being clear that undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research students and international students (of all levels) warrant more specific attention in the document, and I agree with these points.

Emphasising widening participation

There was also a request to strengthen the emphasis on widening participation and the diversity of our student intake, which arose from concerns that we pay less attention to this set of issues as we recruit international students (particularly with respect to “ability to pay”).

Clearly, this is a complex set of issues, but we have heard the concerns.

Many felt that we should make more of public engagement, our museums, collections and library and, in particular, our interaction with, and contribution to, our local and neighbouring communities – a point well made.

Although we are a major global player, we must be conscious of, and integrated with, our local community – using our expertise to make it, too, a better place to live for all, with a clear sense of our contribution to social equity in London.

Reconciling local and global

Some seemed worried or confused by how we could have a focus both on our role in the future of London and being “London’s Global University”. Personally, I don't see any such dichotomy.

One of the best things we can do for London and its future is to be as global as possible. What do I mean by “global” in that context (remembering that the phrase predated me and is widely used across UCL – just look at our signage for example)?

To my mind, a global university needs to have the very highest intellectual and academic performance in education, research, innovation and enterprise that measures up against the world’s best.

It also needs a significant number of staff and students from all over the world and a proud history of international collaboration with significant international activities and partnerships with many different types of organisation from across the world – including other universities, governments, ministries, non-profit organisations, corporations and business.

A global university also needs to prepare all of its students (home/EU and international) for an ever more globalising world. We tick all of those boxes and it is our intention to bring all of that to bear on, ultimately, making London and our world a better place for all.

For now, the “in London, of London and for London” phrase survives the cutting room floor – and to be clear it wasn’t my original idea!

Moving beyond rhetoric

I have saved the best to last. There is very clear and widespread support for the emphasis on improving student education and the student experience with a clear recognition that this can’t be just rhetoric.

We need a wholesale change of culture to ensure that we put students and their education at the centre of our daily activities and make them as important as our research. We really do need to be truly excellent at both, and almost all agree that one way to do that and really inspire our students is to give them a more connected research-based experience.

I was delighted to find such an extensive level of support for this very central concept of UCL 2034.

Next steps

The UCL Strategy 2034 consultation remains open until the end of May, culminating in a major discussion at Academic Board. We will then rewrite the near final version and this will go to Council in July for discussion and, I hope, approval.

If you have something to say – please do – there is still a chance to influence the future of UCL.

Michael Arthur,

President and Provost

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