UCL Grand Challenges


Thoughts on stepping down

27 September 2022

Dr Ian Scott reflects on his time leading the UCL Grand Challenges and his hopes for the future

Portrait photo of Dr Ian Scott

After 13 years and nine months in charge of UCL Grand Challenges, I will retire at the end of this month. Although sad to be leaving UCL, I am delighted that an initiative that’s meant so much to me is continuing as part of the university’s institutional strategy. I am grateful for the great working relationships I’ve enjoyed across RIGE, with colleagues in other Vice-Provost and Vice-President offices, and across UCL’s eleven academic faculties; and I’m glad to be leaving Grand Challenges in the hands of wonderful GC team and associated RIGE colleagues who I know share my passion for the programme.

The GC programme in its current form has been a success for UCL, with many significant consequences for individual academics, for students, and for colleagues in Professional Services. As Professor David Price, the father of GC, intended, the programme has had an impact beyond the Academy in civil society, through informing developments in policy and practice affecting people’s lives, and through its influence on development of connected curricula at UCL Academy, and subsequently in other Camden secondary schools.

GC has influenced other universities’ institutional strategies, here in the UK and overseas. GC’s partnership activity with fellow VP RIGE colleagues in Public Policy, Global Engagement, the Doctoral School, Innovation & Enterprise and Library Services has been incredibly important in effecting impact from GC-stimulated activity at home and abroad.

Looking ahead to the evolved GC programme under Professor Geraint Rees, those relationships will continue to be essential, as will be the further development of the GC team’s more recent work with the Co-Production Collective and the SDGs Initiative, and the opportunity to liaise with and be guided by RIGE colleagues in Governance & Delivery; Planning, Reporting & Evaluation; Research Integrity; Research Facilitation; and Research Strategy, Policy, Impact & Communications. Colleagues in RIGE Administration (now based in Business Operating Services) have played, and will continue to play absolutely business-critical roles in delivery of GC activities.

Developing and running UCL GC has been an enormous privilege and great fun. It has been a demanding remit, but never felt like work. One of the great things about GC for me and for the team has been our freedom, in a customer-facing service, to innovate – using our resources of personal expertise, convening power and a small budget to help UCL staff and students achieve goals above and beyond their expectations.

COVID-19 was a tremendous shock to the world, to the UK, and to all universities, but while some effects of the pandemic have been positive for many UCL staff (eg the achievement of a better work-life balance through the discovery that working from home can benefit both individual staff and UCL), I would like to encourage a re-embracing of on-campus, in-person interaction, whether through scheduled meetings, serendipitous encounters in the Cloisters, coffee bars, the Housman Room, or at events organised around GC-funded activities. It’s so important to build and use your social capital, whatever your position at UCL.

UCL is now facing up to the consequences of the energy and cost of living crisis provoked by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. But I am confident that UCL will ‘bounce forward’ [if I may paraphrase from Professor Sarah Bell’s seminar on Resilience (Central House, 6 September)]. UCL will continue to be a marvellous place for study and research, and a great place to work, approaching the start of its 3rd century in 2026, as the Godless, but wonderfully Diverse and Inclusive College of Gower Street.

This is Farewell from me, but not Goodbye. I look forward to meeting up with UCL friends and colleagues over the next few weeks to thank them for enriching my life at UCL, and to wish them well for the future. In retirement I will keep connected to UCL as an associate member of staff, so please don’t be too surprised when I pop up at UCL events!