Provost's View: Reflections on Charlie Hebdo, REF and plans for the year ahead
15 January 2015
I was intending to write a very cheerful message to welcome all students and staff back to UCL and to be optimistic about our new year.
Many of our staff and students, are, of course, from France and other francophone countries, and I am sure that we will all want to convey our solidarity with them in dealing with these tragic and traumatic events, and our admiration of the fortitude and unity of the French people over the weekend, in their expression of grief and defiance of intolerance and terrorism.
How UCL can work to promote intercultural interaction
Such events signal that the need to understand other cultures and for effective 'Intercultural Interaction' - one of our own Grand Challenge topics - has never been greater. One hope is that, out of the events of last week, there will be a renewed emphasis on the intellectual basis of understanding other cultures and that we and others in higher education can contribute significantly to such a global endeavour and ultimately to a more stable world.
As an academic institution we must be prepared to speak out with evidence-based and well informed opinion in the major debates of our times. We should, for example, be prepared to contribute positively to our own national debate about the benefits of immigration and in particular to point out the importance of attracting the very best international students to the future economic success of our country.
Preparing for a general election and its impact on UCL
This coming year will see a general election in the UK - the outcome of which is currently very difficult to predict. Whatever the colour (or colours) of government, as well as immigration, we should also be concerned about what a new government might want to do with the funding of higher education, and of science and research (more of which in later Provost's Views I am sure), and with possible developments relating to our ongoing membership of the European Union. At the moment, in the order of 10% of our students come from EU member state countries and around 10% of our research income comes from EU funding. Needless to say it would be catastrophic for UCL if any future UK government tried to leave the EU. Again, we must be prepared to speak out as that likely referendum debate is initiated in a new parliament.
Reflections on REF2014 and the year ahead
The general idea of the first Provost's View of the year is, of course, to fill you with enthusiasm for our future and to wish you every success for 2015. Not surprisingly, I have been both serious and rather downbeat so far. To help lift our collective mood, we need simply to look back to the way we finished last term and to our REF results. David Price wrote a superb piece last week which provided you with great detail of our REF results and multiple detailed analyses. I won't repeat those data, but would like to interpret what it might mean for us, our reputation, our funding and our future.
Whichever way you analyse the REF results, we have done extremely well. It is truly historic for UCL to be placed above Oxford and Cambridge in any form of 'post-match' analysis over the entire history of the RAE and REF. This has had, and will continue to have, a huge impact on our global reputation, that will inevitably (alongside John O'Keefe's Nobel Prize at UCL and our merger with the IOE) improve our global league table positions.
I spent some of the holiday catching up on the post REF press round up. We could not have asked for better press coverage and the broadsheets, amongst others, seem to think that we are the big winners. This was achieved by increasing our volume substantially (through merger and organic growth) - but given our 92% return and 2566 FTE submitted, to achieve a GPA of 3.22 across the whole of UCL is also an excellent result, in terms of a very high volume of excellent quality. My view of the future is that we now need to rely less on growth (for all sorts of reasons) and focus more on building even greater quality for REF2020 - if there is one!
But will our REF success translate into sufficient reward in the form of additional quality of research (QR) funding? My recurring nightmare over the Christmas break was of the financial modellers at HEFCE sitting at their computers trying to devise a formula to give us less QR than we now deserve. Surely not! This may be optimistic, but my information (sources protected) is that Treasury are minded to insist to BIS and HEFCE that QR funding closely follows the REF outcomes, and that universities scoring well should be rewarded appropriately. Treasury are allegedly keen for even greater concentration of research funding, perhaps following 4* precisely. We will see. If so, then we will do very well indeed. Remember, we do need to do well financially, to help pay for the full economic costs of our up-front investments.
The key overriding task that we now face as an institution is to take our excellent achievements to date and turn them into a sustainable level of outstanding academic performance, coupled with financial sustainability, while also building for the future through UCL 2034. Please remember one of my favourite phrases - if it was easy, anyone could do it. It is going to require a huge collective effort across UCL, but I am confident that we will succeed.
Other key priorities for 2015
Here are a few thoughts about what else we need to focus on over 2015. I will be focusing on many of these issues in Provost's Views throughout this year.
1) Full implementation of UCL 2034, with clear reporting on progress and governance.
2) Maintain emphasis on integrating our research and education and improving all aspects of the student experience
3) Ensure the merger with IOE creates new integrated success.
4) Deliver clear and tangible progress on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park project with integration of that emerging plan with our regular faculty planning processes - there are huge opportunities.
5) Keep up the pace on Equality and Diversity and make changes to the way we select and appoint our leaders and to our promotions processes.
6) Make even greater progress with the fundraising campaign for UCL 2034.
7) Deliver our new international strategy and focus on implementation.
8) Deliver our new strategy for London and focus on implementation.
The list is not meant to be comprehensive, but hopefully it gives you a flavour of my thinking with respect to our priorities for the next year.
Professor Michael Arthur
UCL President & Provost