6 An open institution

STRATEGIC AIM 2: UCL is committed to remaining an open institution, and to attracting wholly on merit the most talented students and staff from the United Kingdom and around the world.


Foundation ethos

These were the distinctive qualities of UCL from the time of its foundation in 1826 and they continue to define UCL’s ethos and culture today. This was the university that challenged the monopoly of access to higher education exercised by the Church of England through Oxford and Cambridge. It opened up for the first time in England the opportunity for non-Anglicans to proceed to higher education and beyond: Catholics, Presbyterians, Dissenters, Jews, Unitarians and Quakers – and those of no faith
– were all now included. It was England’s first secular and nondiscriminatory university. It set out to remove the barriers not only of faith, but also of social class and race. In 1878, it took the pioneering step of opening access to women on
equal terms to men.

“Finally, the Council trust, that they are now about to lay the Foundation of an Institution well adapted to communicate liberal instruction to successive generations of those who are now excluded from it.”

These were radical and disruptive changes, and the foundation of the “Godless Institution of Gower Street” was strongly attacked by the establishment. But UCL established for England a new concept of the social function of a university for the future.

Access under the new tuition fee arrangements

UCL quad from Gower Street

The significant increase in tuition fees for undergraduate UK-EU students from 2012 entry poses a challenge to these values. There is concern that, notwithstanding the availability of subsidised loans repayable only when post-graduation income exceeds £21,000 a year, able students from less well-off backgrounds will be deterred from applying to university.

The need to provide financial support in order to ensure that we attract the best students from all backgrounds is recognised in the agreement we have concluded with the Office for Fair Access (OFFA). OFFA’s approval was required in order to permit the charging of a fee above £6,000. Our agreement anticipates that 30% of our additional tuition fee income will be spent on access measures. This means in the order of £7.3 million a year being distributed in financial aid, and a further £900,000 allocated to outreach activities.

In terms of the standard access indicators, UCL currently admits 65.3% of its UK undergraduate student population from state schools, 17.5% from lower social class, 3.8% from low participation neighbourhoods and 1.4% from families with no
previous higher education background and from low participation neighbourhoods. We seek to increase each of these proportions through new bursary and outreach commitments, including an increased percentage of intake from state schools by 10%.

We will participate in the Government’s National Scholarship Programme, benefiting students who are in their first year of study and who come from a household with an annual income of under £25,000. We will also separately support students from
households with an income between £25,000 and £42,600, and will allocate significant additional funds to the UCL Friends Programme Hardship Fund.

Raising aspiration and attainment

UCL’s experience has been that the most effective way to ensure that talented students do not miss out on the opportunities of a university education is early engagement through long-term coordinated outreach. UCL’s engagement with schools across London has had a major impact already on raising aspiration and attainment, resulting both in wider participation in higher education and also in promoting fair access – i.e. in ensuring that students aim high in their choice of university.

A major further contribution to this objective will be the UCL Academy, due to open in September 2012. UCL is the only university to have taken the step of becoming the sole sponsor of an academy. It will eventually have 1,200 pupils drawn from the surrounding area. The academy’s focus will be on mathematics, science and modern languages. We believe that a university’s sponsorship, sharing facilities and expertise and providing support to teachers and pupils, can bring about a fundamental improvement in the educational experience of pupils in the school and beyond. We will seek, as the Academy develops, to make its facilities available to pupils across Camden. It will not be a selective school, but will operate as a member of Camden’s
family of schools applying a shared admissions policy. It will not be a feeder school for UCL. It will have the broader educational and social mission of raising aspiration and attainment of all its students, preparing them for employment or higher education at
any university. We aim through this initiative to lead in the setting of new standards for secondary education in north London, both directly through the UCL Academy and in collaboration with other schools and partners.

We have a highly successful 12-year-old Partnership for Excellence with City and Islington College. We will devise further partnerships to overcome some of the major problems of mobility between UK universities, and to attract strong students from
other universities to advanced entry to undergraduate as well as postgraduate programmes at UCL.

Lecture theatre

Philanthropic support

From 2012, our total annual commitment to bursaries and other support will be more than £8 million. We are committed to this growing over the following years. Many UCL alumni and other generous friends have already pledged financial support to allow students from financially modest backgrounds to benefit from a high-quality education at UCL. They appreciate that this was a benefit that was not only free to them when they studied here, but that was in those days also supported by local authority maintenance grants. Our Development and Alumni Relations Office (DARO), supported by the UCL Campaign Executive Committee, will develop a major fundraising campaign to support our ambitions to continue to attract and admit students wholly on merit and without regard to personal financial circumstances.

Next: Transforming education