Brain Sciences


THE 3 P’s – Partnerships, People and Place

30 June 2021

Written by Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences and Pro Vice Provost (London), UCL with guest feature by Dr Michael Spence, President & Provost, UCL.

Professor Alan Thompson

I am delighted that this month’s guest piece is written by Dr Michael Spence, President and Provost, UCL. Since Michael joined UCL in January this year, it has been a real pleasure to be able to share my passion for London with such an enthusiastic advocate and supporter of our capital city. In this piece, Michael shares his thoughts on partnerships, particularly in London, and the value they have for creating success. I look forward to working with the Provost’s Office on all things London as the new UCL Strategy is developed in the coming months.

Speaking of partnerships, the University of London alongside UCL, as the London lead of the Capabilities in Academic Policy Engagement (CAPE) programme, are working with the Mayor of London to develop a new initiative to promote greater joint working between London government and London’s academic research community. More details will follow soon however in the meantime, the University of London have launched a call for papers and presentations on levelling-up and London. Academics are asked to submit a short proposal by 7 July. More information can be found here.

Through the London Office, we are continuing to engage with all of our London partners, in particular the University of London who have recently welcomed Ben Rogers to their team, as Professor of Practice for London. We are also engaging with our colleagues in East London alongside Professor Paola Lettieri, Director of UCL East. We had a further meeting with Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, just this week, to discuss UCL’s impact in East London. As the opening of Poole Street West approaches in 2022, expanding engagement into the four London boroughs surrounding the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park is key and we are working closely with the UCL East team as part of the London Framework priorities, to achieve this.

I also want to raise awareness of the UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants Scheme which has recently opened for applications. Up to £5,000 is available to deliver cross-disciplinary projects in 2021-22. If you’re not already aware, the Grand Challenges covers themes from sustainable cities to human wellbeing and justice and equality, many of which are key themes in helping London to build back better post-pandemic. Further details on the call can be found here.

Finally, I was delighted to learn that in May UCL was accredited for the London Healthy Workplace Award (Foundation Level) by City Hall, recognising the investment UCL places in its employees’ health and wellbeing particularly as a large employer in London. A huge congratulations to all involved in particular the Workplace (occupational) Health Team and EDI.

In this months guest piece Dr Michael Spence, President & Provost, UCL shares his thoughts on partnerships for post-pandemic global success

Universities are competitive places so a spot in the top 10 of a global ranking always sends PR departments into overdrive (and I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t mention UCL’s number eight spot in the 2022 QS World University Rankings published earlier in June).

Behind individual achievement, though, is a more interesting story: that the most impactful and highly regarded universities on the global stage are also the ones that are the most internationally engaged and collaborative. The UK punches above its weight in being home to five of the world’s top 20 universities. Correspondingly, while 20% of the world’s research is carried out through global collaboration, in the UK that proportion rises to an impressive 53%.

That really shouldn’t come as a surprise since we all know instinctively that working in partnership makes us far more effective than working alone in almost all circumstances. No person or institution can claim to have every skill, discipline, network, expertise or piece of knowledge, and we know that diverse teams are stronger and more effective than those in which everyone has the same assumptions, approaches and ways of thinking.

One huge strength of UCL is its ability to bring together consortia at speed to tackle specific challenges or take advantage of emerging opportunities. Our Covid response is the most obvious example of that right now, but there are many others: from working with international companies and healthcare partners to develop and apply AI technologies for human benefit to partnering with communities and local government in Camden on specific issues such as mitigating air pollution.

It's worth noting that, of the top 10 universities in this ranking, London is home to two of them (UCL and Imperial); something no other city in the world can claim. Certainly our position in London can’t be underestimated when we analyse what makes UCL the partnership-driven institution it is. It’s one of the world’s few truly global cities. It draws people from every corner of the world to work, study, play, develop ideas and build business, because you can access networks and form partnerships here in a way you really can’t anywhere else. That’s massively important for research and translation, but equally so for education and student experience; the opportunities UCL can offer to build up ‘social capital’ through placements, volunteering and networking is going to be immeasurably advantageous for our students who are graduating into a tough employment market.

Despite the ravages of the pandemic, London is still London; there are a lot of uncertainties and challenges but also huge opportunities to leverage and solidify its global status to take a constructive leadership role in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world in which novel, disruptive approaches will be vital.

In this new world as in the old one, London is vital to UCL and UCL is vital to London. Growing and developing the ways we work with partners across this city is just as important a focus as developing our international collaborations. We want to keep the world coming to London, to ensure it remains a global city making a positive global impact. And we want be part of the collective effort to rebuild it and make sure it is a thriving home for the people who live and work here: our students, our neighbours, our partners, our local businesses and enterprises, and ourselves.

UCL’s major investments in London’s future, from UCL East in Stratford to our new neuroscience hub in Bloomsbury, are all founded on the assumption that bringing together coalitions and collaborations are core to providing the most effective education and carrying out high quality research and translation that will improve lives and solve problems locally and globally. The multifaceted relationship we have developed with the London Borough of Camden over many years and recently formalised is a brilliant model for how we can become a porous, collaborative part of the community in East London when we open our doors there. It’s also a great example of how working locally and globally are intertwined, with many of the issues we are working on together, such as air quality, transport, housing and the general liveability of cities, generating knowledge that is valuable in many other regions of the UK and the world.

UCL is one of the world’s most collaborative and impactful universities, and those two attributes are pretty inseparable. Collaborating widely within our home city is crucial because we are not working with London, we are London; its challenges are our challenges and its success is our success. So we will be a proactive part of its recovery and rebuilding, and we will continue to bring talented people from around the world to work, study, volunteer and play here, and be part of the next chapter of this unique global city.


Colleagues from across UCL have continued to impact London and Londoners through their research, opportunities and activities. To share just a couple of examples…

UCL researchers have found that there was an increase of nearly 50% in neighbourhood noise complaints in London in 2020, compared to those in 2019. London boroughs of Haringey, Barking and Dagenham, Hounslow and Bexley showed the biggest increase, whilst Barnet was the only London borough to report a decrease. 22 out of the 32 London boroughs were compared in the study. 

Many colleagues have continued to support healthcare workers and health and social care organisations in London during Covid. Professor Sarah Edwards, Professor of Bioethics, has been assisting the North Central London (NCL) Covid Ethics Advisory Group (set up in February 2020 by the NCL Clinical Advisory Group) to provide clinical ethics support, and facilitate communication across the partner organisations in particular between any pre-existing clinical ethics committees.

Professor Christoph Lindner, Dean of The Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment and Professor in Urban Studies, UCL has published some of his reflections on lockdown in London based on local observations around the city. View ‘Aesthetics of Vacancy in Lockdown London’ here.

Finally, our very own Pro-Vice-Provost (London), Professor Alan Thompson, in his role as Dean of the Faculty of Brain Sciences, has been awarded the 2021 Charcot Award, which recognises a lifetime of achievement in outstanding research into understanding and treating multiple sclerosis (MS). The Charcot Award is given by the MS International Federation (MSIF) – a unique global network of MS organisations, people affected by MS, volunteers and staff from around the world. Congratulations Alan!

To share any London impact stories or to get in touch, please contact Amy Lightstone.