UCL News


Provost's Long View: UCL 2034 - turning words into action

26 March 2015

With the general election looming, the emerging picture for the future funding of higher education is looking less than ideal.

UCL 2034 Although UCL has done well in HEFCE's 2015/16 funding announcement today, with a 4% increase in our funding allocation for teaching and research, the underlying pressures were reflected in an overall drop of 5% for the sector as a whole.

First off, the good news. Our excellent performance in the REF2014 and our continued appeal for students in both the UK and globally earned us an overall allocation from HEFCE of £171m, more than the total awarded to any other institution. This is a welcome outcome, and one that any of our counterparts would be delighted with. So we can plan for the future from a position of relative strength.

But there will undoubtedly be tougher times ahead. At our recent combined Senior Management Team (SMT) and Professional Services Leadership Team (PSLT) away-day, we felt that we should plan for the most likely 'at best' scenario of a fixed income of £9K per home/EU student with no inflationary uplift for the next 5 years, and for 'flat cash' settlements for the research councils at the next comprehensive spending review. With our costs inflating by at least 3% per annum, and bearing in mind that our HEFCE increase becomes a more modest 1.25% when the transitional funding elements are removed, you can quickly see the importance of being alert to these external pressures and planning accordingly.

In these straitened times, it is fundamentally important to keep our values in mind and to have a clear idea about what really matters and the overall strategic direction of UCL. I am grateful that we spent a lot of time last year consulting on and agreeing our strategic direction through UCL 2034. This has been effective in identifying those factors that will contribute to our distinctiveness and that will allow us to remain effective in an ever more competitive environment. The purpose of a strategy is to navigate that environment, to make the right decisions, and to protect those things that are most important to us, no matter how difficult the external environment might become.

Over this academic year, we have begun to implement UCL 2034 which now permeates our thinking and guides our decision-making. As well as the obvious major developments, such as the merger with the Institute of Education and the development of our Olympic Park plans, UCL 2034 has featured large in guiding our planning processes for the academic community, for professional services, and for the vice-provosts' offices.

Implementing the individual themes of UCL 2034

UCL 2034 is broken up into six principal themes, and implementing each one of them is a complex task, requiring engagement with many facets of UCL life. For example, I carry responsibility for guiding theme 1 of UCL 2034, 'academic leadership grounded in intellectual excellence' and thus many of my questions and suggestions during the planning process have focused on where we are falling short of that ideal in either education, research or innovation and on ensuring that deans and heads of departments are addressing such issues effectively. I have been equally interested in the progress of our more recently formed academic entities, seeking to support them further where possible. Ideas for new major academic developments have also been discussed, such as our intended new School of Design at the Olympic Park and a proposed School of Real Estate for the Faculty of the Built Environment.

Extrapolating from my own experience of working with theme 1, it is clear that if we are going to implement the whole strategy effectively, it will require a prolonged and concerted effort and we will need to be very well organised. To that end, vice-provosts have been appointed leaders for each theme,, and in addition we have 'populated' each theme with members of SMT and PSLT in order to create small teams responsible for overseeing delivery of the theme's objectives. The default governance route for each theme will be to SMT and ultimately to Council, but where other governance routes already exist, eg to Education Committee, Research Governance Committee or Academic Committee, they will be used.

Much of this is clearly work in progress, but we will soon be updating the UCL 2034 website with both the detail of the implementation plan and our initial thoughts on the performance measures that we might follow on a regular basis. Although these plans already exist, they are currently in need of further editing into a single style that focuses on those elements of the plan that are both really important and exciting. There is a large amount of activity that could be described as 'improving business as usual' and my view is that we must avoid getting too distracted by all of that and make sure there is enough focus on what really matters.

In that spirit, I would now like to remind you about each of the other key themes of UCL 2034 and to outline the key elements of implementation and strategic projects, such that you can see the broad picture of progress to date and next steps.

Progress on each theme of UCL 2034

Theme 2 - 'A global leader in the integration of research and education, underpinning an inspirational student experience' has made tremendous progress with a major development through the 'Connected Curriculum' project, the staff educational development program called 'UCL Arena' and thorough the involvement of our students as 'UCL ChangeMakers'. Details of all of these activities were covered in my previous Long View.

Theme 3 - 'Addressing global challenges through our disciplinary and distinctive cross-disciplinary approach'. Following an outstanding series of results in the Research Excellence Framework, this theme's major project is to review and further strengthen our distinctive Grand Challenges approach, using additional strategic funds have already been allocated. There will also be support for cross-disciplinary developments through research domains as well as the creation of at least two new cross-disciplinary institutes each year, identified through the annual academic planning process and evaluated via the Office of the Vice-Provost (Research).

Theme 4 - 'An accessible, publicly-engaged organisation that fosters a lifelong community'

The most important element of implementing this theme is to build a successful fundraising campaign for UCL - this is already well underway, with £148m raised to date and great progress in identifying key projects that will populate the campaign, which will have its public launch in 2016. Further elements include extending our relationship with London's schools through the UCL­ IOE, expanding public engagement activities, particularly in Stratford as we develop our presence on the Olympic Park and a major effort to extend our programmes for widening participation and lifelong learning, aimed at attracting a much wider and more diverse body of students.

Theme 5 - 'London's Global University, in London, of London and for London'

This theme is at an early stage in its development and more work has yet to be done to think about all of the key strategic elements, which will include health, education, arts and culture, business and innovation, and our role as what might be described as a 'thinktank' for London through our expertise, particularly in the built environment. This theme will now take shape under the direction of Professor Chris Husbands, as Vice-Provost for Academic Development and London, in wide consultation with the UCL community. One major project within this theme is the development of UCL East, which is well underway. The academic steering group for UCL East (now to be chaired by Professor David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) is now sifting through 70 proposals in order to further populate the academic content of our new facilities.

Theme 6 - 'Delivering global impact through a network of innovative international activities, collaborations and partnerships'. Under the guidance of our Vice-Provost (International), Dame Nicola Brewer, the new Global Engagement Strategy is nearing the completion of an extensive UCL-wide consultation and will soon be presented to our Council and adopted later this year. Key elements of implementation will include the establishment of at least three anchor partnerships, the promotion of international experience for a higher proportion of our students, the maintenance of diverse international student recruitment to UCL, and the establishment of one or more overseas offices.

Progress on the Key Enablers of UCL 2034

I trust that you will agree that we have already made tremendous progress with implementing these academic themes, albeit with much more yet to do, but implementation will only be effective if we make good progress with all of our Key Enablers too. Each of these also has an implementation plan, and again, good progress has already been made.

Enabler A - Giving our students the best support, facilities, and opportunities

Our new Registrar, Wendy Appleby, is planning an extensive piece of work with the student community to develop a shared vision for the future of the student experience at UCL. There will be attention given to seeking a diversity of student views and there will be close liaison with theme 2. Another key element of delivering on this enabler is the completion of the New Student Centre, which is on track to start later this year, alongside the many other student-facing estates projects.

Enabler B - 'Valuing our staff and delivering on equality and diversity'

There is currently extensive ongoing work to implement UCL's Equalities and Diversity Strategy, with plans to achieve Athena Swan Silver status at institutional level and to be successful in the pilot programme for the Race Equality Charter Mark. This is coupled with root and branch reviews of our promotions criteria and of our processes to appoint individuals into key leadership positions, such as heads of departments and vice-deans. All of this is supported with a major uplift in the leadership development program, particularly for women. Processes are also underway to enhance policies and practice for recruitment, reward and performance. The appointment of a Vice-Provost for Academic Development, Professor Chris Husbands, signals our intent to maintain a sharp focus on delivering on this key enabling theme. We perceive that getting this enabling theme right will confer significant competitive advantage.

Enabler C - 'Financing our ambitions'

We are making tremendous progress in moving towards greater financial sustainability with slow but definite improvements in the achievement of an annual surplus. This level of financial discipline is essential if we are to achieve the long-term ambition of UCL 2034. In order to get there, we will need to focus our attention on identifying new and enhanced areas of high-margin activity, improve overhead recovery, review our pricing policies and achieve as much as possible through philanthropy. There has been a very high level of focus on this set of issues during this year's annual planning processes. One issue that was common across almost all faculties was the recognition that greater participation of UCL faculties in distance and online CPD represents a major opportunity for UCL.

Enabler D - 'Delivering excellent systems and processes in support of UCL's ambitions'

This enabler is one of the most complex, as there is much to do across many of our systems and processes. However, it is increasingly clear that there would be much to gain from an early focus and investment aimed at improving our management information, so that we can use data to inform our strategic decision-making. We also need to build our planning team and although much progress has been made, there is further room to enhance our institutional planning processes.

Enabler E - 'Maintaining a sustainable estate to meet our aspirations'

A brief walk around the Bloomsbury campus will quickly tell you that our major capital plan is well underway. I am so pleased, for example, to see the day-by-day transformation of the Physics yard, as well as seeing progress with Wates House. This is the physical manifestation of a lot of hard work, pulling together a ten-year £1.2 billion capital plan that is financed, in part, by extending our facilities to borrow. We all know that our estate has been one of the most contentious issues in recent times, in part due to our extraordinary success as an institution. It will remain one of our most difficult issues for some time to come, but we are making real progress. Continued patience as we slowly continue to deliver would be greatly appreciated.

Enabler F - 'Communicating and engaging effectively with the world'

Communications will be re-prioritised and aligned with the key strategic themes of UCL 2034 and disseminated via the UCL Communications Network, which links people working on communications across faculties, VP offices, Professional Services divisions and academic departments with the central Communications & Marketing teams. Lifting the international profile of UCL thus engages the whole of the UCL Community.

If you have read this far through this Provost's Long (longer than usual) View, you are clearly an enthusiast about UCL 2034 and its implementation. It has been useful to me to run through each theme and to recognise just how much we have already achieved. Clearly, we still have much to do, but most of it is defined and under active review in each of our themes or enablers. We could go faster with more resource, but that is always the case. I am confident that we are prioritising investments to where they are most needed and likely to be most effective. In getting this far, I have been very heavily supported by the extraordinarily talented colleagues that make up SMT and PSLT. It has been a superb team effort and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all.

Professor Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

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