UCL News


Vice Provost's View: The outlook for health at UCL

5 November 2015

Having been Vice-Provost (Health) for three months, I should like to start by thanking my predecessor Professor Sir John Tooke: health at UCL has gone from strength to strength over the past five and a half years.

David Lomas

We were ranked 4th in the latest Times Higher world rankings for pre-clinical, clinical and health-related subjects. UCL's 'health' disciplines performed very well in REF 2014, notably in terms of research power for which Clinical Medicine and Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience ranked first nationally.


The vision of the UCL School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) is to exploit cutting-edge science to improve public health. It draws its strength from its four component faculties, but UCL's health agenda extends well beyond SLMS and there is no doubt that we benefit hugely from being part of a comprehensive multifaculty university.

A key part of our contribution to the delivery of the ambitious agenda set out in UCL 2034 is the development of cross-disciplinary relationships: across faculties in UCL, with UCLPartners (UCLP), with the Francis Crick Institute and with MedCity (a collaboration between the Mayor of London and London's three Academic Health Science Centres).

Partnerships within UCL

There are exciting partnerships with BEAMS (The Bartlett, Engineering and Mathematics and Physics) in the Centre for Medical Imaging, the London Centre for Nanotechnology, the UCL Institute of Digital Health, and the UCL Institute of Biomedical Engineering.

The Dementia Strategy Board under Professor Nick Fox's chairmanship is a collaboration across all 3 UCL Schools, and the BASc Arts and Sciences is a collaboration with the School of Laws, Arts & Humanities, Social & Historical Sciences, and School of Slavonic & East European Studies. We also have the opportunity to work closely with UCL's African Studies Research Centre now that the Wellcome Trust Africa Centre in KwaZulu-Natal is led by UCL's Professor Deenan Pillay. My recent visit to the Institute of Education revealed that we have many joint projects but an appetite to develop many more.

Partnership beyond UCL

Much of the strength of SLMS is derived from work with our partner hospitals. These relationships have resulted in the award of three NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (UCLH, Moorfields Eye Hospital and Great Ormond Street) and two Biomedical Research Units within our UCLPartners network (Dementia at UCLH and Cardiovascular Disease at Barts Health). They made a major contribution to our Impact Cases in REF 2014 and provide the platform for the largest cohort of NIHR academic clinical fellows and clinical lecturer posts in the UK.

However, we would like to develop closer links with our partner hospitals to facilitate basic and translational research, education and enterprise. UCL has partnered with Queen Mary University of London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to establish six 'Academic Medical Centres (AMCs)' with its partner NHS Trusts. Each AMC has an ambitious programme to pursue world-class research, teaching, enterprise and clinical outcomes and collectively they comprise the Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC), part of UCLPartners which interacts with the Academic Health Science Network (AHSN) to ensure effective translation and delivery to the community.

It is also essential that we play a central role in shaping the development of the new Francis Crick Institute. A second round identifying secondments to the Crick will begin shortly and we should harness our links with the Crick to help recruit new staff to UCL, as we have done with the recruitment of Professor Ak Reddy from Cambridge.

A big win for London and the wider UK comes from UCL working in partnership with King's and Imperial as part of the London AHSC Executive Group and MedCity (which also extends to the wider South East region). These fora enable a collaborative approach to research, education and enterprise across London and the South East, offering the possibility of developing a powerhouse across the region on a scale that can rival Boston. Currently there are collaborative initiatives in the Dementia Research Institute and in Health Informatics. We also wish to develop our partnerships with the Zoological Society of London, Birkbeck and Imanova (a centre for imaging sciences which is alliance between UCL, the Medical Research Council, Imperial and King's).

Excellence in research

SLMS clearly has a strong record in research, but it has the potential to be even better. The Deans and I have set an ambitious agenda to strengthen the research base and develop our centres as beacons of excellence. We plan to increase the proportion of research council, Wellcome Trust and charity-funded senior fellows (who are under-represented at UCL) and are working with Human Resources to facilitate the appointment of fellows from within and from outside UCL.

World-class education

SLMS has almost 10,000 students and hosts three Wellcome Trust PhD programmes (two non-clinical and one clinical). We co-lead with BEAMS an EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training and we lead or co-lead multi-institutional BBSRC, MRC and NERC Centres for Doctoral Training.

Student experience is paramount and we welcome UCL's Connected Curriculum initiative to ensure that students learn through research participation at all levels of study. In the 2015 National Student Survey, SLMS education programmes scored an average of 88 for overall satisfaction, compared with a sector average of 86.

Despite this strong performance, some areas have slipped from last year and we recognise there is always room for improvement. We will seek to exceed sector average performance in every programme and to contribute to UCL's commitment to be in the top performing quartile of Russell Group universities.

Facilitating enterprise

SLMS enterprise activity continues to expand with the support of UCL Enterprise and the highly successful Translational Research Office (TRO). The recent five-year review of the TRO showed that the translational portfolio currently stands at 32 active projects with a total value exceeding £46m, with a further seven projects funded and in set-up. Since its inception six years ago, an investment of approximately £2m in the TRO has attracted in excess of £92m of industry funding to UCL.

Equality and diversity

We are delighted to be part of the only university in the UK with an institutional silver Athena SWAN award and a bronze Race Equality Charter award. SLMS aims for all divisions and institutes to have individual silver Athena SWAN awards (currently 11 silver and 7 bronze awards).

Financing our ambition

The agenda that we describe is ambitious, especially within the challenging UK higher education sector funding environment. We will need to work hard to fund the new facilities for research, education and enterprise.

SLMS delivered a direct contribution of £113m to the university for 2014-15. This reflects an increase of £15m (15%) on the previous year but was still £4.7m short of our target of £117.7m. The SLMS contribution target for 2015-16 is £128m, a further increase of £15m compared to the final outturn for 2014-15.

This reflects growth in contribution of 30% over two years and a 4% increase when contribution is measured against income. The SLMS Deans and I are working to maximise and diversify research income through growth in overhead recovery rates, waste and duplication reduction, and research platform rationalisation. We are also working with the Development and Alumni Relations Office to increase income from philanthropy.

It is our strong belief that the best way to deliver increased success is through partnership and I am very keen to grow even closer working relationships with the wider UCL as we address the UCL Grand Challenges. These are exciting times and we look forward to working with you to increase the success of our fabulous university.

Professor David Lomas, Vice-Provost (Health)

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