Provost's View: Have your say on UCL’s direction over the next 20 years

13 March 2014

UCL 2034

One of the most refreshing things about UCL is how eager staff are to be involved in shaping the future of this great institution. Certainly, harnessing your ideas and energy will be key to the success of UCL 2034, the new 20-year strategy that will underpin our decisions and activities across the university.

I would strongly urge you to read the draft and familiarise yourselves with its content. The senior management team and I would greatly appreciate your input before we take the strategy to our Council for approval and, ultimately, the implementation stage.

To kick-start the consultation process we scheduled a series of staff engagement events to discuss the draft strategy.

I was pleased to see how quickly the first event was booked up, but that could be partly explained by the fact that the chosen venue was so small! At the time of writing, there are still some seats available for the larger event on 24 March, so please do come along and get involved.

Initial feedback

I have already received a great deal of constructive feedback on the draft strategy.

Indeed, the first staff engagement event on 10 March stimulated useful debate on a range of issues from how the strategy can encourage the recruitment and retention of young members of staff, to how we tackle the growing pressure on our estate – something that I have already prioritised in order to raise the standard and availability of teaching and learning spaces across campus.

Why now?

Some of you may ask why we need to review our institutional strategy when the White Paper was only published in 2011 and covers the period up to 2021.

My answer is that, although the White Paper remains an excellent comprehensive document, the world and UCL have moved on in the past three years and new leadership brings some new thoughts and ideas.

It is also good practice to review institutional strategy every three to five years and, although we are early in the cycle, the timing seems apposite considering that we have just submitted the documents for the Research Evaluation Framework (REF) 2014.

A refinement, not a replacement

It is intended that our new strategy loses nothing of major importance from the White Paper, but that it presents much of that content in an abbreviated form.

The principal differences, which really amount to a change of emphasis rather than a wholesale change of direction, are as follows:

  • A longer time horizon, building on our outstanding performance and thinking about the future of UCL over the next 20–30 years.
  • A much clearer emphasis on the student experience at UCL and the relationship between our research excellence and our student education.
  • Our role in London and our ambition to see London become the world’s premier destination for higher education, research and innovation, thus contributing to economic growth.
  • An international strategy founded on a much clearer idea about trying to achieve significant international impact in our overseas activities, and one that fits with the ethos and values of UCL.
  • A greater sense of partnership and the creation of a lifelong community involving prospective and current students and staff, alumni, members of our local community and the public – all supporting UCL to achieve its ambitions.

Words into action

To implement the strategy effectively, we will need widespread understanding and a significant degree of consensus – and this is a key aim of the staff engagement events and the extended period of consultation.

Once the engagement programme is complete and the strategy signed off through our Council, we will move towards developing an operational plan – a process that I foresee will consist of three discrete, but major, areas of activity.

The first one will be the creation of a small number of high-level strategic projects that are pan-UCL, each of which will be driven by either myself or the relevant Vice-Provost and their support teams and governance structures.

These still need to be discussed in more depth but could include:

  • curriculum enhancement – connected curricula with research-based elements clearly defined
  • the Olympic Park Project and other London-facing enterprise activities
  • a major philanthropic campaign
  • the review and further enhancement of the Grand Challenges and other strategic research and academic developments
  • a new e-learning project – blended, online, distance, CPD, MOOCS etc., and possibly degree-level provision
  • enhancing our performance on equality and diversity.

It is envisaged that there will be a significant number of projects that will be of major importance and ‘must-do’ in nature, often to support and enhance the strategic projects outlined above.

The second strand of activity will involve each faculty, department and service ‘interpreting’ the strategy and bringing forward their annual plans for consideration with appropriate developments in each discipline/service.

The third strand of activity will be the introduction of a system of direction and oversight, governance and measurement of progress against our key strategic themes and objectives.

For this element to be successful, we will need to improve our management information and benchmarking data. I envisage that this will be another major piece of work over the remainder of this academic year and into next.

Working together

Clearly, the process of creating an operational plan will require just as much energy and thought as the initial drafting of the strategy, and your contributions and commitment will be invaluable.

By working together, we can ensure that over the next 20 years, UCL offers a radical and integrated approach to education, research and innovation that will transform how the world is perceived and understood, and the way global problems are tackled.

Professor Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

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