7 Transforming education

STRATEGIC AIM 3: UCL is committed to providing education of the highest academic quality, rigorous in its demands, distinctive in its character, imbued with UCL’s world-leading research and delivered by academic staff at the forefront of their field.

The opportunity

The new student funding arrangements create challenges and opportunities for every aspect of our activities. They compel us to transform an already powerful educational experience into something truly outstanding in quality and transformative for our students. Our aim is to offer the best undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the UK, based on rigorous scholarship and academic excellence. A UCL education must
be intellectually-stretching, research-led and interdisciplinary. It must be distinctive, drawing from UCL’s history and ethos, its metropolitan location, its global strategy, its globally-recognised intellectual leadership, its scientific strength, its willingness to
take on new challenges and its ability to change and adapt.

The foundations for this refocused approach are laid in our recently adopted Institutional Teaching and Learning Strategy 2010–2015. UCL will continue to be an institution that is setting the pace, not following the pack. UCL graduates will be recognised as not only critical and creative thinkers, but also as committed to ethical behaviour; people who understand and are sensitive to cultural difference; who are capable of functioning as global citizens; who are prepared to take on leadership roles in the workplace, the home and the community; who are entrepreneurs who are able and willing to innovate; and who are highly employable and capable of being professionally mobile.

We aim to be in the top three institutions in the country for all measures of educational excellence, including retention, value added, student satisfaction and employability.

“UCL is neither a ‘Robbins Report’ campus, nor a ‘medieval college’ university, and the social culture that it can – and ought – to deliver is constrained by this. Instead, UCL is
in London, a cosmopolitan capital city at the heart of the UK, Europe and the Commonwealth. Its estate is urban, embedded in the city; student accommodation is distributed around Bloomsbury, Fitzrovia and Camden. This both dilutes the student body amongst the population of the metropolis and immensely enriches the opportunities on offer. The social experience that UCL can offer is the
unique ‘London experience’.”
Professor Alan Penn, Dean of The Bartlett, UCL Faculty of the Built Environment

The distinctiveness of a UCL undergraduate education

Interdisciplinarity and team working across disciplinary boundaries will be central to the solution of the many challenges facing humanity in the 21st century. It has to be built on firm disciplinary foundations. It is only those confident in their own discipline who can contribute, and gain the trust needed to collaborate, in multi-disciplinary teams.

We will educate future leaders in all fields of action. This requires that we give students the ability and tools to engage in the world critically, with humility and with wisdom. Leadership is most required in exercising judgment in areas of complexity and
uncertainty. Here, knowledge is contested and wise decision-taking requires the exercise of an open mind, analysis of evidence and argument without prejudice, and the ability to engage in debate with those of different experience and perspective.
It requires that one is reflective, self-aware, and able to concede a strongly held position in order to make progress. Our graduates will have learned to be active learners and team workers.

The elements of UCL’s distinctiveness:

  • Embedded in research: UCL is one of the world’s great research universities, and this reputation is attractive to potential students. To be true to the research-based educational mission requires fresh commitment to teaching on the part of the whole research community. It means that students learn as researchers that the curriculum is largely designed around enquiry-based activities and that the division of roles between teacher and student is minimised. Every member of the UCL academic staff is expected to teach.
  • Students need to learn from and be inspired by UCL’s world-leading researchers, and this approach will be recognised and success rewarded by strengthening the existing incorporation of this expectation into performance, remuneration and promotion reviews. We will champion the involvement of leading research staff in teaching, principally by engaging and supporting all students in enquiry-based activities. This will involve the delivery of inspiring lectures to first-year students as well as supervising projects, role modelling approaches to enquiry, encouraging student publications and mentoring.
  • A respondent to the Green Paper stated:
  • “I believe teaching is a part of the research skill – how you communicate your research to others, and especially the next generations is a crucial part of ‘doing’ research. We need to ensure that all researchers can do this to the best of their ability and at an acceptable quality. Professors should ‘profess’! Some will need help to do this, but it should not be an option to forgo some teaching (as it should not be to forgo some research).”
  • Another stressed the need for flexibility in disciplines where the research agenda is international, large and competitive to an extent that makes it impossible to disappear from a major collaboration for a period of months to dedicate to teaching.
  • International in orientation: UCL is London’s global university, and extensive work has already been undertaken to internationalise the curriculum across the institution. We have also developed advanced programmes in global citizenship. Opportunities for all students to study abroad with appropriate support will be extended. We will build on existing international programmes and partnerships, including the UCL–Yale collaborative, to extend opportunities for students to develop in different countries.
  • A modern foreign language: Knowledge of a modern foreign language is an integral part of a 21st-century education. To reflect the importance that we place on students having had some experience of language study, we are already committed to introducing, for UK-based undergraduate entry, a requirement of a modern language GCSE at grade C or above for all undergraduate entry. For academically strong students who do not have a modern language GCSE, UCL will provide opportunities to meet the language requirement once enrolled at UCL. This will be either through taking a 0.5 course unit in a language as part of the degree programme or through studying on a specially designed certificate programme. We will keep this requirement under review with a view to raising the language threshold in due course.
  • Global citizenship: We believe that a university can and should aim to shape students’ personal and social development, as well as encourage their intellectual growth: the term encapsulates all that we do at UCL to enable our students to respond to the intellectual, social and personal challenges that they will encounter throughout their future lives and careers.
  • We will further develop UCL’s participation in global collaborations such as Law Without Walls. Our ‘Education for Global Citizenship’ agenda gives us the framework for this redefinition. We have committed ourselves to fostering a learning environment that produces graduates who are educated in the broadest sense: sensitive to cultural difference, ambitious, idealistic and entrepreneurial. Departments have been working to internationalise their taught programmes and to adopt modes of teaching that challenge students to develop teamwork, communication and presentation skills. We are in the process of harnessing this momentum and making radical changes across the board to make ‘education for global citizenship’ the hallmark of the UCL experience. In doing so, we will be playing to our strengths: our disciplinary breadth; our commitment to social engagement; and our location in one of the world’s most diverse cities.
  • UCL’s spectrum of disciplines has created a diverse, inspirational and collaborative environment for our staff and postgraduate students. We shall make these key features of our undergraduate programmes as well. UCL will develop a pervasive concentration on diversity and plurality – not just for their own sake, but with the conviction that these are necessary to achieve excellence and impact.
  • Radical in advancing new programmes and in developing interdisciplinarity. The flagship will be the new undergraduate UCL liberal arts programme (the BASc), outlined below. We anticipate that this will become the premier undergraduate entry point to UCL, admitting only the most able students. It represents an important principle that we will seek to embed in every undergraduate programme in the university with the introduction of the new approach to Global Citizenship. An interdisciplinary approach developed for each programme by course directors in the context of the proposed forthcoming programme review will allow us to ensure that all our undergraduates, regardless of discipline, can locate their discipline within a broader social and intellectual context and experience a shared ‘UCL’ language.
  • We will also invest in developing new types of learning activities for students in all disciplines, delivered in the period postexaminations in the first and second year of study. Both of these new courses will explore challenging issues around cultural difference, leadership and entrepreneurship in discipline-specific and, where appropriate, in mixed discipline groups.
  • Enhancing the student experience through enterprise:We will continue to develop our academic programmes and extracurricular activities to enhance the student experience and to help prepare students to find and create jobs for themselves and others. Students require an appreciation of the myriad opportunities available to them upon graduation. For some, the prospect of starting a business will be appealing and we will seek to stimulate and support entrepreneurial aspirations in extracurricular activities such as the bootcamps delivered by UCL Advances. We will support curricular activities that focus on entrepreneurship and recognise the important steps already taken by the Department of Management Science and Innovation and the focus on entrepreneurship in the BASc programme. These will provide the basis for more widespread inclusion of entrepreneurship in the curriculum.
  • We will ensure that every student has access to some form of entrepreneurship training as part of their course, or by participation in extracurricular activities. We will also establish an investment fund to back student entrepreneurs with the aim of supporting at least 500 student businesses in the next five years.
  • Work experience with external organisations, from small and medium enterprises through to large corporations, is extremely valuable to students and can enrich the student experience. In some subject areas such work experience is already the norm and forms an important component of the curriculum. We will identify opportunities for inclusion of work placements in other programmes and this will be complemented by extracurricular activities. We aim to offer every student an opportunity to gain work experience either as part of their programme of study or as an extracurricular activity.
  • London: We see London as effectively part of our campus, as we look outwards to partner organisations in the public and private sectors – Government, business, industry, the professional institutions, culture, media and NGOs – and work with them to facilitate opportunities for students to learn in ‘real-world’ contexts. This reflects the commitment in our research strategy to the practical application of knowledge in search of resolutions to the world’s problems: we must support our students to apply knowledge, as well as to acquire it, if we are to prepare them adequately for their future lives and careers. A major attraction of London is the access it gives to employment.
  • Fully engaged with student opinion: UCL has a well-developed network of student representation and engagement with curriculum development and delivery. We will develop ever more sophisticated ways of assessing the student experience. We will close the gaps in the existing sources of feedback where they fail to provide systematic information on such matters as what students value in terms of the extent and kind of contact with teachers, the optimum length of courses and the amount and type of online content.

Programme review

UCL will become an exemplar in British higher education in not only driving quality in its teaching, but also devising methods of assessing and benchmarking it – taking account of the specific attributes of an institution with high entry requirements and a strong research underpinning.

To this end, every programme will be reviewed over the coming two years to ensure its continuing fitness for purpose in the new regime and to address questions relevant to it. Where can investment best be made to enhance present provision and maintain UCL’s position as a global leader in higher education? In each course, how successful is it in embedding teaching in research and scholarship and engaging the relevant research community in the course? What is the value to the student of the various teaching contact points? How effectively are new technologies being deployed in teaching? What is the fitness for purpose of academic feedback and assessment? What progress has been made with internationalisation of the curriculum? How far is employability embedded in the programme? What further reforms and improvements are needed to meet the transformational aspiration of this White Paper?

This process will be coordinated by the Vice-Provost (Education) and led by course directors, with the engagement of academic staff and all other colleagues who support learning and teaching across UCL.

Undergraduate curriculum reform

UCL students in a lecture

We need also to respond to the radical changes that are occurring to secondary level qualifications around the world, and especially in Hong Kong, Singapore and China, where the traditional English model of intensive A level study of as few as three or four subjects is yielding to models more similar to the US, Scottish Highers and the International Baccalaureate. This requires a review of university programmes.

The UCL model of programme design builds on the traditional British approach of early-age specialisation. For the most part, students are expected to have decided on their degree specialisation well before they apply. Our current prospectus offers more than 200 undergraduate degree programmes, from Astrophysics to Viking Studies. Many of these are variants on a smaller group of core programmes, perhaps with an additional year, and/or emphasis on a particular aspect.

By comparison, an applicant to Yale simply applies to be an undergraduate at Yale. A Yale undergraduate will take at least 36 courses through their liberal arts programme, pursuing one or more of them in depth but without needing to choose which will be their ‘major’ before their second year of study.

UCL has already moved some distance in the direction of providing generic entry points. Degrees in Biomedical Sciences, Human Sciences and Natural Sciences have proved popular and have attracted high-quality students, enabling them to explore
traditional scientific disciplines and the overlaps between them, then choosing to specialise or maintain a broad study base.

We are committed to moving further, by simplifying entry points and providing greater choice for students once they are at UCL, based upon their first year study experience.

Following the launch of the BASc degree, we will wish to consider whether we should make a more radical shift to a more open liberal arts model where a significant proportion of undergraduate students could apply to study at UCL without specifying an honours programme at the outset. We will need to strike a careful balance and not pursue this as a unitary model, given the world-class quality of our professional programmes in areas such as medicine, engineering and architecture.

This will form part of a longer-term review of the UCL undergraduate offering. We are already conducting a fundamental review of the undergraduate curriculum experience
in all faculties, commencing with Engineering and Medicine. We need to go back to fundamental principles and review the challenges for university education in the 21st century. Many of our programmes are world-leading, but the world is changing
fast. A refreshed curriculum is required to respond to the knowledge explosion, and to build alongside that new structures for lifelong learning, corporate learning and consultancy.

The BASc programme

This programme, introduced from 2012, is unlike any other degree in the UK. It allows students to create a bespoke interdisciplinary programme, incorporating both arts and science specialisms. It aims to equip students with knowledge, skills and insight across arts and sciences subjects. Core courses will enhance understanding of how different branches of knowledge interrelate.

The programme will provide a unique combination of specialist courses and an interdisciplinary core. The core courses impart both concepts and skills to work effectively across multiple disciplines. They link traditional UCL subjects in new ways and explore the conceptual and methodological differences between arts and science subjects.

Students will study a modern foreign language throughout their degree, and will also undertake an internship in a company, government department, charity or NGO.

Unlike a US liberal arts degree, students will choose a major and minor pathway from the outset, and this choice will determine their specialist subjects. There will be four pathways: Cultures, Health and Environment, Sciences and Engineering, and Societies.

This is a pilot programme and numbers will be limited initially, possibly to as few as 80 students a year. It will provide a new honours school entry point to UCL, targeted at those with the highest achievement and the greatest potential. We anticipate that the numbers will expand significantly over the following years, and it is possible that in due course this will become the largest entry point to undergraduate study at UCL. The final figure will depend not only on demand for places but also on the consequences of the Government’s AAB policy.

Move to a semester system?

The traditional English university year has been based upon three terms, each of between eight (Cambridge) and 12 (UCL) weeks. Almost all formal instruction takes place in the first two terms, and the third is reserved for revision and examination. This is different from the prevailing model in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India, Singapore and China – and increasingly also in the UK – of a semester system. Courses are taught and examined in each semester, allowing for a different programme of study to be pursued in successive semesters; or alternatively for teaching to be divided into four blocks, with two per semester.

Many British universities have moved to this model, and there is good reason for it. It affords greater flexibility in course design, the organisation of study abroad for students and for foreign students wishing to spend time studying at UCL, staff sabbatical leave and for interactions with university partners internationally. Indeed, it is now the dominant global approach to the organisation of university education.

There is no single model. One approach would be an autumn semester with teaching running from mid-September to mid-December, with a one-week break seven weeks in, and resuming for two weeks of revision and exams in January. The spring semester would then commence and run to late May, with similar in-semester breaks but with timing attuned each year to the timing of Easter. (A respondent to the Green Paper wrote: “I suggest scrapping the Easter vacation and teaching right through that
period, as done in American universities. This secular stand is one of which Jeremy Bentham would have approved.”

An alternative model would require the completion of revision and examinations for the first semester prior to Christmas, with the spring semester starting immediately in the New Year. In either case, a summer school half-semester would also be possible, allowing intensive use to be made of the teaching estate throughout the year.

The introduction of a semester model would be a radical change for UCL; indeed, it would have been impossible without our recent implementation of a Common Timetable. The proposal attracted a range of comment during the consultation period, both for and against. Respondents who were in favour argued that the counterpart of the more intensive education it would provide for students was that it would also increase teaching loads. There was divided opinion as to the merits of the two models outlined above. Some were against semesterisation on the ground that a long revision period was necessary for students to develop fully their understanding of their work and to bring together the various strands, and that it fosters shallow learning: “absorb – regurgitate/apply – forget”; others were concerned that more time devoted to teaching would impact heavily on research activity and productivity and on project work, field-work and other activity currently taking place in the summer term. There are implications for physical resources, including particularly library space in
advance of the exam periods.

It requires detailed consideration. A consultation paper will, therefore, be developed within the framework of this White Paper and under the leadership of the Vice-Provost (Education) on the opportunities from a student perspective of moving to such a
model and the institutional complexity of introducing it – drawing on experience elsewhere but with a view to developing a distinctively UCL approach.

Degree classification

The standard UK model of academic classification of degrees into classes of honours is no longer capable of providing the information that students deserve and employers require. Across the UK, award inflation over the past three decades has led to student performance being essentially recognised by classification into only two main groups: first class and upper second class honours. Even with transcripts now being readily available, this is a crude and undistinguishing model, which fails to recognise the range and variety of individual performance. It does not provide a basis for the international comparability of performance needed for a global university.

We believe that the new approach to undergraduate education in England demands a more sophisticated approach to providing transparent information about university performance. UCL has been a pioneer already in piloting the HEAR system (Higher
Education Achievement Record), which is intended to provide more detailed information about a student’s learning and achievement beyond the traditional degree classification system. This provides a profile of non-academic skills development and
other achievements, such as leadership of clubs and societies and volunteering.

We will now develop the HEAR into a universal system of recording student achievement with effect from 2012–13.

We will also pilot – and, if successful, adopt – a new approach to reporting academic achievement through developing for UCL a Grade Point Average (GPA) model equivalent to the standard US approach to degree performance classification. The US model uses a system of letter grades of A, B, C, D and F. Each has a numerical multiplier, and they are averaged to generate a score for each student. It is common for the GPA to be coupled to an honours system, in some versions with a fixed percentage falling into each category. For example, in each programme, summa cum laude honours might go to the top 5% of the class; magna cum laude to the next 10%; and cum laude to the next 15% of the class.

UCL will wish to develop its own approach: a UCL GPA system will be distinctive, and will be developed in such as way as to enable the GPA score for each student to be generated automatically from existing percentage-based assessment scores.

Continuing professional development and engagement with private providers

We will extend significantly UCL’s provision of CPD across the areas of professional education including law and medical practice. None of the learned professions faces a comfortable future, and all practitioners require constant continuing education and skills development to perform at the highest levels.

There is a range of activity occurring already across UCL, which will now be drawn together and further developed as an institutional commitment. It will build upon UCL’s leadership across many of the professions, its London location, its international presence and its investment in IT systems for campus and distance learning.

The Government’s wish to encourage the entry of private educational providers into higher education, beyond their existing presence in professional areas such as law and
accountancy, offers opportunities – particularly in London – for new partnerships in provision. We are developing a major new programme in Distance Learning, notably with a CPD focus for a global market and with international partners.

Global teaching network

We are developing a network of teaching collaborations with research-intensive universities around the world. This will involve both short staff exchanges to witness in situ innovations of proven effectiveness elsewhere and interactions in London with international university partners who are leaders in educational innovation.


The transformation to UCL’s education offering requires single-minded academic leadership. We are creating a new post of Vice-Provost (Education), a role that has until now been coupled to the international brief. Recruitment will be through international advertisement and search.

Complaints and appeals

We will review the procedures for handling student complaints with a view to establishing an independent student ombudsman with authority to mediate, act relatively informally and speedily and propose practical solutions to resolve justifiable complaints. We will also review procedures for handling academic appeals to
ensure swift, fair and transparent process.

Non-academic activity

There is a wealth of opportunity for student involvement in the 150 clubs and societies with sporting, cultural, academic and other objectives run by UCLU, the student union.


The numbers of UCL students engaged in volunteering has been growing rapidly, and now stands at 17% of the student body. We aim to increase opportunities and the participation rate to more than 30% within three years. Beyond that, we shall develop
proposals to allow volunteering to become an element of all degree programmes, expecting undergraduates to have invested at least 20 hours of their time in voluntary work with the local community. We have laid the foundations for much of this, and
many departments have already made considerable progress.

Management of admissions process

The new fees regime will place a high premium on quality. Students will be seeking a long-term return on the significant investment that they are being required to make. We anticipate a continuing rise in demand for places. This requires that the processes of judgement in selecting the best qualified candidates for admissions must be supported by the most efficient, transparently criteria-based and customer-oriented processes. This will require common standards and approaches across the university. We need to provide clear information to candidates to allow them to make informed choices; speedier response times – bettering those of our competitor universities – and greater efficiency. A fundamental review of our processes is now in progress.

Teaching modalities

Large lectures, to a whole cohort or more, by eminent scholars from UCL and elsewhere internationally, speaking on the latest thinking and most pressing topics should form a part of the context our students should expect, but we recognise that the large lecture is not the best way in which to teach the assessed portion of most programmes. It reduces the opportunity for the students to engage critically with the ideas presented and reduces peer-to-peer discussion. It is being superseded by
more multi-directional modes. A respondent to the Green Paper commented:

“[We] do need to encourage staff to become much more visionary about the modes of delivery. The world is on a cusp in several domains – climate change, demographics,
global political and economic complexity, communications and so on – where we can no longer take the evidence from previous decades, centuries, millennia to provide the
basis for a prediction of the future in the expectation that things would be more or less the same. This means that we must rethink the future from scratch – on the basis of our intelligence and knowledge, yes, but by changing entirely the way in which we utilise this. The people who will take such thinking forward are our current students, hence the need to change our approach to teaching and learning (emphasis on the latter rather than the former). […] Our graduates will need to learn to be adaptive in a changing world, not just repositories of excellent knowledge who can make intelligent decisions. ”

Although disciplines vary in their approach, a UCL student is expected to question the teachers’ logic and assumptions, and so to contribute to their learning through critical debate. In order to develop a critical approach, we will continue to teach largely through small group seminars led predominantly by research active and senior staff, supported where appropriate by postgraduate teaching assistants. We will reinforce the personal attention that marks out a high-quality student experience.

One respondent to the Green Paper stressed the need to reinforce in particular the teaching of science:

“No area of teaching is undergoing as rapid a transformation around the world as the sciences and mathematics. And few areas have the potential to have as much impact on our world. I think this represents the fact that, in general, the balance of the science faculty is far more towards research than teaching. This needs to change.”

In making improvements to the student experience, priority will be given to meeting the need for small group, laboratory and project-based teaching, supported by appropriate technology; the need for social and study spaces that permit students to work according to their own time pattern; a commitment that coursework will be returned quickly, and with constructive feedback; high-quality personal tutoring; 24-hour access to the campus; contact with subject leaders in their field, backed up with appropriate Postgraduate Teaching Assistant (PGTA) support for more technical help; peer-assisted learning; opportunities for a more diverse curriculum; and better equipped teaching laboratories.

We will promote more opportunities for e-learning in our campus programmes, but without detracting from our effective personal approach to tuition. E-learning packages will be more extensive than at present, be interactive and include specially designed
templates to assist with curriculum development and innovation. UCL Library Services are rolling out a new software suite (the Tails Aspire Core Readings service), enabling academic staff to construct their own online reading lists with links to the full text
of relevant digital content to support their courses.


High-quality, research-led education coupled with our Education for Global Citizenship Agenda – which includes the insistence upon foreign language skills, promotion of volunteering and development of employability skills – ensures that UCL graduates have the competence and experience to be highly employable. UCL scores well in all major league tables of graduate employment prospects.

We will take further steps to develop skills essential to employability, and opportunities for employment of all our students, including:

  1. ensuring that student understanding of career options and skill requirements is developed early, at the pre-entry stage, and that students are fully aware of and engage in skill development activities in their academic programme, throughout their time at UCL;
  2. ensuring that the extracurricular activities such as those run centrally by the Careers Service, UCL Union and UCL Advances are well promoted through a centralised UCL skills portal and that students are made aware of how these can also enhance employability. Students will be fully supported through the personal tutor system and use of systems for recording and reflecting on employability skill development. In addition, specialist programmes will be further developed for the international student cohort as well as postgraduate students, research staff and recent graduates;
  3. the expectation that all students will undertake some form of work-based experience during their time at UCL. We will facilitate this in various ways, such as placements within academic programmes, and heightened promotion of employer internships and voluntary opportunities. This will necessitate UCL engaging with a broader range of recruiters than previously, particularly small to medium-sized enterprises;
  4. access for all prospective recruiters to a wider range of information about our students through the introduction of the Higher Education Achievement Record and the proposed GPA grading system;
  5. significant investment in the Careers Service with a view to providing continued access to the service after graduation to registered alumni and to involving alumni in providing up-to-date, high-quality careers advice and mentoring.

The ultimate aim is to ensure that all students leave UCL and embark upon good careers or further study positions. This will be closely monitored through analysis of the annual HESA Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) Survey by the Careers Service and the Provost’s Senior Management Team. Departments will be asked to produce action plans to address problem areas.

Postgraduate education

Demand for postgraduate places at UCL has been booming in recent years, and there has been a steady increase in student numbers and in new courses. It is too early to anticipate the effect that the new undergraduate funding regime will have on the propensity of UK-EU students to proceed to postgraduate study. The Government teaching grant has been withdrawn also from taught postgraduate (PGT) programmes, and tuition fees for most of them will, therefore, have to rise to levels similar to the new undergraduate fee. Some courses with professional or heavy laboratory orientation will command fees beyond that level. Postgraduate students will not have access to the student loan book. We will seek collaborative arrangements with financial
agencies for the provision of loans to postgraduate students, and will diversify our postgraduate taught portfolio through providing a greater number of flexible sub-units that could be taken on a modular basis.

There are opportunities for further improvements to our provision of taught postgraduate programmes as a result of the common timetable, the differentiation between professional masters and research masters, and international developments such as the Bologna Declaration on higher education in Europe.

Postgraduate research degrees and the UCL Graduate School

UCL was a pioneer in the UK in establishing a Graduate School and conferring upon it responsibility for all regulatory matters and quality issues relating to postgraduate research programmes; and for the definition and approval of policy and procedure in relation to all graduate matters. The Graduate School is responsible for delivery of the Skills Development Programme; the Research Student Log; the UCL Research Ethics Committee; Research Funds and Scholarships; Research Supervision Training; and for promoting a sense of community amongst the graduate student population.

The Graduate School has played a major part in ensuring the maintenance of high standards during a period of rapid growth. In 2009/10, UCL had a total graduate student population of 9,596 (up from 8,492 in 2008/09), of which 3,344 were research
students (2,662 UK/EU and 682 overseas) and 6,252 taught graduate students (4,402 UK/EU and 1,850 overseas).

In an online survey conducted by the Graduate School in July 2010, UCL‘s research students consistently rated their experiences highly, with 79% rating their supervision as excellent or good and 77% rating their experiences overall as excellent or good.

A particular innovation has been the UCL Online Research Student Log, for which the  take-up in 2009–10 was around 97%.

The Graduate School’s principal focus is on research students. Those on taught postgraduate programmes, whose needs are different, are overseen primarily within departments.

We have set up a review of the role of the Graduate School in light of our ambition to increase the numbers of outstanding postgraduate students at UCL in less favourable financial circumstances (see also the Research section below), and to ensure that our support for both taught postgraduate and research postgraduate students is to the same quality as for our undergraduate population.

Postgraduate teaching experience

UCL has a postgraduate teaching assistant (PGTA) scheme, but many departments do not use it. Gaining teaching experience should be an expectation of postgraduate research degree study. This is standard practice in the US, where postgraduate
researchers routinely undertake teaching as part of their degree and fund their graduate education through a combination of tuition fee waiver and stipend in return for performing teaching duties. UK-trained applicants for junior academic posts frequently have no teaching experience at all, which puts them at a significant
disadvantage against overseas competition. We will develop this opportunity, distinguishing between the role of PGTAs on the one hand, and Teaching Fellows on the other, and providing proper training and supervision and financial support.

Technology for student support

We will invest in further developing technology for student support, providing ready access to timetables, records, course information and other information and extending this to handheld devices. UCL is already well advanced in this area, and the iPhone app, which maps onto the staff directory, sets a model for future development. Information from the common timetable, and course information, should be accessible in the same way. We will wish to undertake further development of the UCL student information system as one of the leaders in the UK higher education sector to enhance information availability to staff and students.

Technology will be developed to ensure that information about UCL processes and procedures is clear and easily accessible, that students are offered a ‘one-stop-shop’ approach, and that we take a more holistic approach to the student experience, supporting through technology better integration between the formal curriculum and other aspects of student life such as volunteering, work experience and careers education.

In pursuit of this, we will:

  • review existing systems and processes to ensure that they are as simple as possible and that UCL takes ownership of resolving problems;
  • review the management arrangements for student services, and seek more effective integration between services;
  • develop a Student Experience Strategy integrating approaches to learning and teaching with other aspects of the student experience;
  • ensure that our services and processes are designed with all students in mind, not simply full-time undergraduates;
  • meet more of the demand for informal and social leaning spaces in which students can work individually and in groups, with access to a range of resources to support learning.

The estate

The importance of the estate to the creation of a UCL sense of identity and place, as well as its contribution to a world-class educational experience, is unarguable. It must be a top priority to provide space for students: each degree programme requires an identifiable ‘home’; doctoral and studio-based students require workplaces; and there is a need across the board to provide sufficient excellent workspaces and computing to support personal study and group working.

There will be a significant programme of estate rationalisation, refurbishment, redevelopment and improvements to environmental sustainability in the context of the Bloomsbury Estates masterplanning exercise currently underway. Student learning and research is at the core of the 10-year strategy. We will provide an outstanding environment for study, comprising libraries, learning spaces, laboratories and social space. There is strong student demand, reflected in the Estates strategy, for a fully networked, 24/7 campus.

Libraries and IT

The design of library space needs radical transformation. Physical space and physical collections are under great demand from UCL students, all in addition to the digital library offering that UCL now provides. The success of the DMS Watson refurbishment
demonstrates what can and needs to be done. A new approach needs to adapt to developing technologies in learning, study and research and this will be part of the larger project on developing new learning technologies at UCL.

Support services

Support services will be provided through a new student hub, which is a priority for the Bloomsbury Estate Masterplan. We will seek transformational improvement in our handling of all student administration, and to provide a one-stop-shop on campus
for student affairs and new models of study support, including maths and other specialist subject advice centres. We will invest significantly in enhancing the student counselling service.

Student accommodation

UCL is a major provider of student accommodation with 4,500 bedspaces under its ownership or control. A review in 2010 concluded that there was a need to follow good practice in the sector and move away from exclusive self-provision to a mixed model through partnership to transform the quality and extent of UCL student accommodation. Commitments are already in place to add a further 500 bed-spaces within three years.

Priority will now be given to refurbishment, extension and redevelopment of existing facilities in central London, but with a view also to providing up to 1,000 new additional bed-spaces beyond the centre of the city in areas that are readily accessible
by public transport, offer an attractive and safe living environment and can be provided at a reasonable cost. These new facilities will also include accommodation for postgraduate students, and for post-doctoral and other junior staff, together with accommodation suitable for families.

Recognition and reward

The transformation of education proposed here can only succeed if it excites the enthusiastic participation of the whole UCL community. Innovation and additional effort must be recognised and rewarded. The present scheme of Provost’s Teaching Awards will be extended; in particular, to recognise those leaders who succeed in embedding
research insights creatively in undergraduate programmes, and those who take transformative steps in the delivery of new modalities of education.

Next: Research