Provost's Perspective: Improving the welcome we give new students
21 April 2016
During the autumn term, more than 300 of you - both undergraduates and postgraduates - gave your views on what a UCL education should look like in five years' time.
You told us that we could do more to make new students, particularly those from overseas and from ethnic minorities, feel part of our community before they take up their place and once they arrive here.
We've taken that on board with several new initiatives that are already taking shape.
A virtual campus tour
I'm particularly excited to share proposals with you for a new online programme that, with a nod to the world of virtual reality and gaming, will introduce UCL to new and prospective students.
It's still early days, but we envisage that this 'Introductory Programme' will offer a virtual tour of our campus and harness the power of social media so that students who have accepted a place here, but haven't yet arrived can make friends before they join us.
We want to make it possible for new and prospective students to be able to virtually explore our buildings as they choose, "entering" a lab, lecture theatre or library and witnessing online those "light bulb moments" that we all have in the course of our studies, whether we are students or academics.
You've told us that, as new students in particular, you wanted to know about subjects outside the degree course you have chosen. As our Education Strategy sets out, we envisage that our Introductory Programme will introduce students to the incredible interdisciplinary breadth we are famed for and to courses that cut through subject boundaries, such as the Global Citizenship Programme.
As I have said, proposals for our Introductory Programme are still in their infancy, but we're working towards a pilot in several departments in 2017. There's much more work to be done to decide the exact content and to design and build the site. At every stage, there will be opportunities for you to give your views and test what we have done. If you are interested in this, we would love to hear from you, please do email us at email@example.com.
A better face-to-face welcome
Of course no online programme, however exciting and well-designed, could replace giving new students a warm face-to-face welcome.
One of our priorities over the next two years, as our Education Strategy makes clear, is to enhance our welcome service so that all students feel part of our community from the beginning. This is particularly the case for students from ethnic minorities and those from overseas.
We will be working with staff and students in our halls of residences to support the integration of international and home students and have started a project with UCLU to make UCL more welcoming for Black and minority ethnic students, for example through mentoring schemes.
For international students, those first few weeks can be made that much easier if someone takes you through how to deal with visa requirements and set up a bank account or phone contract. From this September, the International Student Support team will have improved their already successful three-day orientation programme for international students with workshops on cultural awareness and tips on how to survive those first few bureaucratic obstacles.
Sometimes though, you've told us that it is just factual information you are after in a mobile phone-friendly format. With that in mind, the International Student Support team has developed a new website for international students that will be launched at the end of this month.
It will include information on, for example, orientation sessions and explanations of UCL terms, such as Portico.
You've also told us that our welcome service is not what it could be for students who arrive late, as a result of visa delays for example, or those with families. From this September, we will provide information particularly for these groups of students on our popular new students' newsfeed.
Acting on what you tell us in student surveys
It's thanks to you that we have made many of these changes - you told us that they were necessary.
As I'm sure you know, we now collect a huge amount
of information on how you feel about your education from internal and external
surveys. Our Education Strategy sets out how, over the coming years, we will be
investing much more in this resource.
We plan to promote student surveys more and to tell you in greater detail about the changes that have come about because of your feedback. For those in any doubt, the next few years will show that we take what you tell us in these surveys very seriously and act upon it.
Incidentally, I'm glad to report that our response rate for this year's National Student Survey is currently at 72%. I do hope we can exceed our record of 74%, which was achieved in 2014. The survey is sent to all final year undergraduates and will close on 30 April. Response rates are already 5% higher than this time last year and 8% above the national average - a huge achievement considering the size of our university.
A big thank you to all of you who have filled out the survey - I think the response rate is evidence of a culture change which involves students far more in our decision-making and one in which students and staff work together to drive change.
Please continue to tell us what you think, through whatever means possible. Particularly in a university like ours, which attracts students of an extremely high calibre, it's vital we harness your intellectual and creative firepower to create a better UCL.
Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost