UCL News


Provost's View: Take some relief from the election - it's festival season at UCL

25 May 2017

I sometimes think that UCL is more like a city state than a standard university.

World Archaeology Festival in Gordon Square

We have a population of more than 50,000 staff and students and a diaspora of alumni that stretches across the globe.

That scale and variety means that even people who have been here for years can still be surprised at what goes on around an unexplored corner.I sometimes think that UCL is more like a city state than a standard university. We have a population of more than 50,000 staff and students and a diaspora of alumni that stretches across the globe.

World Archaeology Festival in Gordon Square, credit: Lisa Daniel

So, the programme of events that we run through the year are not just a great opportunity to invite the wider public through our doors for a taste of the variety and brilliance of what goes on here; they are also a chance for staff and students to delve deeper into UCL life, try something new and discover the unexpected and unusual in our labs, workshops, lecture theatres, archives and studios.

So successful are our events that this year we are really going to town with two big public festivals working together to create something really exciting and unique - the UCL Festival of Culture, now in its second year and the It's All Academic Festival, which celebrates the first year of our £600 million Campaign.

To that already eclectic mix, we can also add UCL's contribution to the World Archaeology Festival, which takes place during the same period.

A taste of UCL's variety and brilliance

All three festivals promise to bring thousands of people to our campus to take part in events ranging from fossil-inspired opera in the Grant Museum to a celebrity-led reading of Orwell's 1984.

It will be a welcome distraction from the election, which takes place around the same time - though there will also be many events debating the issues and implications of the UK political situation for those who want access to our expertise.

UCL Festival of Culture logo

Many of you will already be familiar with the UCL Festival of Culture, which has a large and devoted following thanks to its really imaginative programming.

Taking place this year 5-10 June and offering more than 70 events across six days, the festival showcases the extraordinary diversity of our world-leading research across the arts, humanities and social sciences.

It is also an opportunity for us to celebrate the Institute of Education, which became part of UCL in 2014, and the Orwell Foundation, which has been based at UCL since 2016.

It's All Academic Festival logo

On Saturday 10 June, the final day of the Festival of Culture joins up with the new It's All Academic Festival - a day-long extravaganza of talks, tours, performances and workshops with activities for all ages and interests.

Every corner of the campus will come to life, with diverse highlights including a lively debate hosted by Chris van Tulleken on the future of everything from crime to the human brain, hands-on pewter sessions in the Institute of Making and a physical theatre performance exploring life with motor neurone disease.

These festivals are terrific events in and of themselves but they also profit UCL in a much deeper and longer-term way.

UCL has never been, and must never be, an ivory tower. We are London's global university, intrinsically part of the capital, serving, benefiting and working in partnership with this vibrant city in many different ways.

We are open and porous - and we must redouble our efforts to ensure that we are perceived in that way.

The UK faces a lot of uncertainties over the next few years and, whatever government is in power as Brexit progresses, it is likely that it will need to think carefully about its spending priorities.

The enormous economic contribution of a university such as UCL (let alone its social and educational contribution) is indisputable; we are proven to repay every pound of public investment many times over.

An antidote to alternative facts

However, especially in this post-fact world, we would be unwise to rest on our laurels. We need the wider public to understand the worth of universities, to value what we do and to feel that we are all part of the same community.

The upcoming festivals are a hugely valuable way to engage, excite and provoke people - demystifying universities for those unfamiliar with them and demonstrating that what we are doing is relevant and applicable.

They will also, of course, be great fun. So whatever your interest, please come along to some of the festival events.

Explore the search for alien life or the search for historical meaning in 'ordinary things'. Find the hidden geology in UCL's building stones or the hidden wildlife on our campus. Consider President Donald Trump in the context of Captain America comics or migrants' experience of arriving and living in London.

Or just enjoy a Pimms and pop-up food vans in the Quad. And bring your families and friends with you to show them the unique place that we are all so lucky to be part of.

Please browse the festival programmes:

And, of course, thank you to everyone who gives their time to organise and be part of these wonderful events.

Professor Michael Arthur
President & Provost

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