UCL News


Provost's View: UCL 2034 - the progress so far

8 June 2016

As the end of the academic year, and the end of my third year as President and Provost of UCL approaches, I thought it would be helpful to reflect on the progress that we are making in terms of our long term ambitions, as outlined in UCL 2034.

UCL 2034 graphic

At the heart of our strategy is a clear emphasis on academic excellence, with equal prominence given to the quality of our research, and our education, and the benefits of reconnecting them both for our students and staff alike.

Our strategy acknowledges that we are among the world's leading universities with a truly outstanding performance in research that underlies our global profile and reputation. Central to this is our outstanding ability in cross-disciplinary research as exemplified by our Grand Challenge approach, coupled to the fact that our academic excellence drives through to impact on a global scale.

Rest assured that our performance and fast-rising global reputation are played back to me externally with great regularity. Everything that we do next should be aimed at ensuring that we stay in that prominent global position and continue in a virtuous cycle of ongoing academic improvement.

Against this background, I want to update you on the ongoing work to implement and monitor our progress against UCL 2034 - indeed, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes to ensure that we keep a close eye on whether we are on track in the early years of our 20-year strategy.

Monitoring and implementation

In an organisation as large and complex as UCL, it is important that we can monitor strategic progress regularly and that we can communicate it to all our staff, students and other stakeholders.

Some of the major transformational projects that are helping us to realise our vision have been covered in recent Provost Views; for example, the UCL Campaign, transforming our estate, UCL East and developing a new London Strategy.

But there is also a wide range of activity taking place at a more local level that will be showcased in this year's UCL Annual Review. This digital publication will capture some of the work that has taken place across UCL over the past year to help us to achieve our ambitions. Look out for the launch of the Review later in the summer.

Last month, we presented to Council a high-level dashboard of progress against each of the UCL 2034 Principal Themes and Enablers. If these terms (principal themes and enablers) are unfamiliar to you, please take the time to refresh your memory by looking again at the one-page summary of UCL 2034.

This stimulated a constructive discussion around the pace and direction of progress and helped us articulate how in some areas, particularly within our enabling themes, it may be some time before we reap the benefits and start to see our vision being realised - but we are clearly identifying the issues and getting on with implementing change for the better.

Council was also keen to look more closely at the KPIs previously agreed and to explore how we could set benchmarks to track progress. Following a useful discussion at the Council Away Day, we are now looking at how we can best benchmark against each KPI to provide a meaningful indication of whether we are making the necessary progress in the early years of our strategy. We will take this back to Council in the autumn for consideration.

If a strategy is to be truly effective, it needs to be woven in to our day-to-day planning and decision-making. This year, we have taken further steps to integrate the objectives of our strategy into the planning round - the annual process that each Faculty, VP Office and Professional Service undertakes to agree plans and financial projections for the next five years.

Weaving UCL 2034 into everything we do

Faculties have been required to present how their plans are delivering against UCL 2034 and the latter has also been the principal criteria for bids made to the Provost's Strategic Development Fund to kickstart new strategic initiatives.

Every university, and UCL is no exception, is dependent on the good will and hard work of its staff and I recognise the importance of ensuring that you have access to everything you need to perform at the very highest level.

UCL 2034 is, ultimately, aimed at providing the type of high-quality academic environment in which all our staff and students can continue to excel. Another important factor in determining the success of the strategy is the level of engagement across UCL and the latest staff survey results suggest that there is still some work to do here.

To this end, the planning team have been attending meetings held by faculties and Professional Services to increase awareness and understanding of our vision and talk about how we all have a part to play in achieving it. If you would like to arrange such an input at a local meeting or away day, please get in touch with Caroline Wickenden.

Raising awareness of our vision

I would also like to acknowledge that not everything has been plain sailing over the past year and that there have been some difficult moments as we endeavour to cope with an ever more volatile external regulatory and funding environment.

I am referring, of course, to our need to achieve financial sustainability alongside academic excellence. As I have said many times, it is quite easy to achieve one or the other, but really quite difficult to achieve both simultaneously, yet that is what we must do if we are to achieve the ambitions of UCL 2034.

In essence, it is the only way forward if we are to remain among the very best universities in the world.

There have been two internal issues that have created a lot of concern in recent weeks. I hope that the first of these, UCL expenses policy, is beginning to settle down, with greater flexibility built in to the practical application of the policy in its revised form.

Recent concerns

The second issue has been the use of discretionary accounts and the need to budget sensibly for expenditure from such accounts, while acknowledging that these accounts perform an important 'continuity' role in support of PhD students and postdoctoral staff awaiting decisions about externally funded  grant awards. 

Discretionary accounts and how best to handle them will be the topic of discussion at a special meeting of the academic board this week. I welcome that meeting and look forward to receiving help from colleagues on this issue.

Ultimately, this problem has to be solved without disturbing our overall long-term academic and financial sustainability, and it will be excellent to have academic board advice and support for such a way forward.

I want to finish my last Provost's View of the year on a positive note. I would ask you to join me in thinking back over the past year and to look at the real progress we have made.

I would include many things in our list of key achievements, but, uppermost at institutional level, would be our tremendous progress on the proposed academic content at UCL East; the rapidly emerging academic benefits of the merger with the Institute of Education; the implementation of our global engagement strategy; initial work and consultation about our proposed strategy for London; the Connected Curriculum programme, Arena and Changemakers programmes from the Centre for Advanced Learning and Teaching (CALT); and a very successful review and refresh of our Grand Challenges cross-disciplinary programme to include two new challenges on 'transformative technologies' and 'equality and justice'.

Many notable achievements

To underpin all of this ambition, we are also making tremendous progress on our philanthropy and engagement 'Campaign for UCL', which will go public at a high-profile London launch event on 15 September, followed by a series of international launches in key markets in October and November. 

Let me point out that we raised the best part of £43 million in 2014/15 (according to the Ross CASE survey), placing us in third position in the country. Philanthropy founded UCL and is helping us to achieve some of our biggest ambitions; staff can make a big difference to the Campaign's success so please do get involved.

I hope that, like me, our tremendous progress fills you with pride to be a member of the UCL community. Enjoy your summer.

Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President & Provost