Provost's View: Implementing our strategy - rethinking promotions, acting on student feedback and Grand Challenges
16 October 2014
Back at UCL after a visit to the New York tri-state area, I have returned to an atmosphere of great anticipation, as we stand at the cusp of major decisions for the future of the university, and as we begin to do some important work on implementing UCL 2034.
Our Council meets next week, on 20 October, to agree the way forward for two major initiatives: our proposed merger with the Institute of Education and our involvement in the creation of a new hub for Culture and Education at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
These two decisions have the potential to make a huge difference to the future of UCL over a 20-year time frame. I am looking forward to updating you on both in the near future..
I will also be updating Council next week on progress to date with the implementation plan for UCL 2034. As you will recall, the vision and key themes for the strategy were launched in early summer of this year.
Feedback from right across the UCL community has helped to define the priorities underpinning UCL 2034, so I am looking forward to sharing our plans for turning that vision into practice. Some of that work is already underway and I would like to update you on three active and timely pieces of work.
Promotion and reward review
First, I'd like to encourage you to feed into a process that has already come out of UCL 2034 - a review of promotion and reward systems, led by Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs), which launched this week with a survey for all UCL staff in academic, teaching and research roles.
I requested this review because excellence across the domains of research, teaching, enterprise, public engagement and institutional citizenship is at the heart of UCL 2034, so it is clearly essential to ensure that we appropriately recognise and reward merit and excellence in all of these areas.
The purpose of the survey is to gain an understanding of your experience of promotion and reward at UCL - this includes where you think we may have got it wrong and what changes you believe are necessary.
We have had some initial suggestions about what some staff think these priorities are - they include recognition of teaching fellows at Grade 10, as well as greater recognition of activity in teaching, enterprise and enabling for staff in academic roles.
However, a wider sample of staff may have different views and priorities. We, therefore, want to base our proposals for improvement on responses from across the university - which is why your participation in this survey is important, so please do take part.
Following the survey, and before Christmas, we will also undertake some focus groups that will look at the challenges for specific groups of staff, including women and BME staff.
You will be invited to nominate yourself for these if you would like to be involved. We then hope to have initial proposals on promotion and reward systems for staff by early 2015.
Using feedback to improve the student experience
Improving the student experience is another core theme of UCL 2034 and I wanted to briefly mention another initiative that we'll be conducting this year - in this case, how we obtain and utilise feedback from students.
UCL students are asked to participate in numerous surveys during their time with us, ranging from those addressing large groups of students, such as the HEFCE-commissioned National Student Survey (NSS) and the Student Barometer - which benchmarks student experience against 100 other institutions - through to local module evaluation.
We've had some positive results in recent major student surveys, including an improved student satisfaction score in the 2014 NSS.
However, we know that UCL students are sometimes unclear about the purpose of surveys that they receive and do not always know whether we've acted upon their feedback. We need to get better at promoting student surveys and communicating their results.
A review, led by Professor Anthony Smith, will work towards the overarching aim of making UCL open to student feedback, and of encouraging students to participate in the feedback process more readily.
At a time of such rapid changes on campus and in UCL life, this principle of establishing an excellent feedback loop with students is absolutely critical.
UCL at its intellectual best
One of our great successes in recent years has been the creation and pursuit of the Grand Challenge approach to addressing problems with a global scale and dimension.
Our current Grand Challenges adopt a cross-disciplinary approach to investigate Global Health, Human Wellbeing, Intercultural Interaction and Sustainable cities.
This week saw a major 'town meeting'-style event to celebrate progress in each of these over the past five years, but also to think about how we continue to further build and adapt this concept as part of UCL 2034.
Ian Scott, Yvonne Rydin and Nick Tyler gave excellent presentations that covered the evidence base of how these grand challenges have successfully promoted cross-disciplinary research at UCL, as well as descriptions of progress and personal experiences in both Human Wellbeing and Sustainable Cities.
This was followed by a panel discussion involving Tim Beasley-Murray, Sarah Bell, Anthony Costello, Alan Penn and Maria Wyke - all of who were asked to present their 'manifesto' for the future of Grand Challenges within a one-minute time frame (which was itself quite a challenge!).
The standard of debate and contribution was very high, intellectually stimulating and, at times, quite challenging and critical, but in a highly-constructive way.
This is an ongoing consultation and your thoughts are welcome. Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research), and his office will be using the content of the debate and the new and exciting ideas that emerged to help them formulate their views about where the Grand Challenges go next.
In my view, this was UCL at its intellectual best - debating issues very openly and finding ways to create research and educational activity that will ultimately help make the world a better place.
Professor Michael Arthur
UCL President & Provost
Watch the film screened at the UCL Grand Challenges event this week.