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The President & Provost's speech - what we learned

10 April 2014

President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur used his speech at the UCL Teaching and Learning Conference 2014 to unveil his vision for research-based education at UCL. Here are six key messages

President and Provost Michael Arthur UCL Teaching Learning Conference speech

1 UCL should prepare to face greater competition on a global scale

“It feels to me as though we are yet in the foothills of what will eventually become a mountain range the size of the Himalayas in terms of international competition,” said Professor Arthur. He added that he anticipates a steep increase in every aspect of university competition – for the very best students, for the very best staff, and, of course, for funding. And the solution? Professor Arthur’s planned response is a simple one: “Provide real excellence in everything we do.” That means redoubling efforts to offer a world-leading education at UCL with the notion of research-based education at its heart.

2 The Provost won’t dictate how to implement research-based education (but he did offer a few pointers)

Turning his attention to how research-based education will be put into practice, Professor Arthur was at pains to point out that he was in no position to provide all the answers, as interpretation will necessarily vary from discipline to discipline. However, he had already offered a few pointers. They included engaging students in the current research activity of a university group, inviting them to read and discuss the group’s papers and writing short reports. “This doesn’t need to be a PhD project on day one,” he explained.

3 The departments with the highest levels of student satisfaction share one common trait

Archaeology, Law, English, Medicine, Science and Technology Studies, Maths – they all feature among UCL’s most successful departments when it comes to student satisfaction. And according to Professor Arthur, they have one thing in common. “They have the culture of a relationship between their students, their education and their research in the right place. They’ve put their students at the centre of their thinking on a daily basis.”

4 Research-based education is set to play a bigger role in recruitment and promotions

How do you affect culture change in an organisation like this, asked Professor Arthur. “If we think the relationship between research and education is of fundamental importance to our future, it absolutely must be reflected in everything else we do.” And that includes recruiting and promoting staff. Professor Arthur’s plans include reviewing all promotions criteria to ensure that UCL offers lots of routes for those who deliver on that relationship between education and research.

5 The aim of research-based education is not to create thousands of researchers

In fact, Professor Arthur explained that the relationship between teaching and research is far less about leading students to a specific career, than it is about providing them with skills they can use in any industry. Employers are looking for skills developed through engagement with research. Skills such as problem-solving and teamwork. “They are not at all concerned about curriculum and content, they are absolutely concerned about taking rounded graduates with great values who are confident, who can contribute to their organisation,” he said.

6 A comprehensive course review is on the way

“We must not pay lip service to the relationship between research and education, we need to embrace this across the board,” said Professor Arthur. “I think this is absolute mission critical for our future. I think it’s really non-negotiable at least for the whole time I’m Provost.” In order to ensure consistency of implementation of research-based education, he intends to kick off a thorough review of every UCL course, with significant results expected within a three-to-five year timetable.

Further information

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