UCL News


Vice-Provost's View: Our education strategy: preparing our students for the wider world

26 November 2015

Over the last few years students' expectations of their universities have grown, competition has become more fierce for the best students and - as the government's

Anthony Smith gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/474266/BIS-15-623-fulfilling-our-potential-teaching-excellence-social-mobility-and-student-choice-accessible.pdf">recent green paper shows - the quality of teaching has been placed under greater political scrutiny than ever before.

Our Education Strategy offers considered responses to these changes and proposes a model of what a UCL education could look like in five years' time.

Now out for a second and final consultation with students and staff, it is both a statement of ambition and a pragmatic attempt to fix some of what could be even better at UCL.

A blueprint of what a UCL education could look like by 2021

The strategy contains changes that, if agreed, will affect staff in every department.

These include a proposal to reward staff for their investment in teaching and education leadership with a new promotions framework by 2018 and the creation of an optional online interdisciplinary programme for students who have accepted an undergraduate place at UCL, but haven't yet started their degrees.

It sets out plans for a root-and-branch review of postgraduate taught education to ensure we meet the specific needs of our growing cohort of master's students. It also highlights a major expansion of our short courses for career advancement and personal or professional development.

Our strategy recognises some of our shortfalls: the digital experience we give our students urgently needs to be modernised, we lack teaching space and have a patchy record when it comes to assessment and feedback. 

We outline ways to strategically address these challenges, through, for example, substantial investment in our estate, expanding the Lecturecast service into UCL's largest classrooms and by conducting both a comprehensive audit of the timetable and an institution-wide review of assessment.

A global leader in the integration of research and education

All these proposals are important, but at the heart of our education strategy is a plan to develop a distinctive approach to research-based education in which all UCL degrees integrate research and teaching.

This goes to the very core of what UCL hopes to achieve over the next 20 years.  UCL 2034 commits us to becoming "a global leader in the integration of research and education, underpinning an inspirational student experience".

The aim is not to encourage every student to embark on a research career, but to develop enquiry-based approaches and skills they can use in the workplace and in the wider world.

In practice, a research-based education means fine-tuning our students' critical thinking skills so that they become confident problem-solvers, experienced communicators of complex information and are able to work well in teams.

Of course, what a research-based undergraduate degree looks like will vary tremendously between degree programmes, but with the Connected Curriculum, we have a handy model that defines the relationship between students' learning and their participation in research and describes the connections to be made between disciplines, years of study and staff and students. This is currently being supplemented with practical guidance for departments.

Our education strategy proposes that by 2021, we will have reviewed all our programmes to ensure they reflect the six dimensions of the Connected Curriculum and that we will have introduced a Connected Curriculum virtual learning environment.

A culture of student engagement and leadership

Students invest more than time and effort in one of our programmes of study and want to feel rewarded for their personal and financial investment.

As we all know, this year's National Student Survey (NSS) results show there's a great deal of work to be done to improve students' satisfaction with their learning experience.

Our strategy sets out a renewed and expanded commitment to working with our students to understand and develop the "inspirational student experience" of UCL 2034 Theme Two.

This means giving students a voice at the heart of our decision-making and significantly expanding the number of opportunities for them to shape our policies and practices.

We plan to expand UCL ChangeMakers, our scheme that enables students and staff to work together on projects that bring about institutional change.

We recognise that we need a more consistent and coherent approach to student surveys and propose that, by 2018, staff receive feedback data in a way that makes it clear where there needs to be improvement. 

Our intention is to make the Student Experience Committee (StEC) the main way of monitoring the quality of the non-academic student experience. Senior managers on the committee will need to demonstrate that we are making progress on those areas that students believe should be better.

Help shape the education strategy

The proposals in our strategy have been designed so that all of us invest our time, energy and money into creating an educational experience that enriches our students intellectually, socially and culturally - an experience that is second to none.

We would like you to help us by sharing your thoughts on our ideas. We are fortunate at UCL to have some of the best educators in higher education and we value your knowledge and experience. You are warmly invited to our town hall meeting on Tuesday 15 December at 1:30pm until 2:30pm.

In addition, you can complete our short online consultation form here or send questions, comments and suggestions to teaching.learning@ucl.ac.uk

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs)

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