This update, issued in February 2022, focuses on mapping UCL's impact in the UK.
UK universities have much to offer, and much to gain, as part of a knowledge ecosystem which nurtures talent, drives innovation, and tackles societal challenges. Yet the context in which we operate is ever shifting and the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, climate crisis and global geopolitics raise questions for many about the sector’s social licence to operate.
UCL is known as a global university, but we also have an identity in the UK, and our own future success is inextricably linked to the wellbeing and prosperity of UK citizens and to the economy of the UK. We have set out our initial approach and aims to support UCL’s UK impact under four key areas: supporting the knowledge economy; tackling inequalities; supporting the research ecosystem and delivering impact in the wider world.
As we seek to better articulate UCL’s impact, as well as new opportunities to deliver this work, we would like to explore what we do across the UK and highlight some of the life changing impact UK universities are already delivering.
The HE sector’s primary impact in the UK is arguably through its teaching. UCL contributes to the UK’s economy with almost 50,000 students, more than 20,000 of which are from the UK, and 200,000 alumni living and working in the UK. Our graduates become sector leaders, such as environmental campaigner and CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, Craig Bennet (MSc Conservation), or go on to start businesses benefitting people and communities across the UK, such as recent mental wellbeing start-up MindHug. But we acknowledge there is still work to do on widening access and diversifying our student population, as well as in the underpinning research on the barriers to higher education, such as though the work of the UCL Centre for Education Policy and Equalising Opportunities, to drive UK-wide improvements in access and attainment for all.
Beyond teaching, the UK’s world-leading research is instrumental in tackling societies greatest challenges, from the Oxford Vaccine Centre to our own pioneering work on protecting the homeless throughout the pandemic. In partnership with communities and policy makers, research informs the development of local and national policy to benefit society, for example UCL’s work with Camden Council in driving local policy responding to climate change or the recently announced civic agreement between five institutions in Manchester and the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to drive social and economic change in the city region.
Universities are also critical to growth and innovation either through research and development (R&D) or direct commercialisation of research activity. The most recent figures suggest UK universities contribute around £95 billion to the economy. The sector is an integral part of innovation clusters and industry collaborations across the country from the Cell and Gene Catapult to the Belfast technology cluster of the Northern Ireland Science Park.
But, how do we know we are having impact and how do we intend to measure it? While there are many bureaucratic processes designed to “measure” university impact (e.g. TEF, REF and KEF), one metric that speaks universally is the concept of lives improved - measuring our immediate impact through the number of people who have materially benefited from the work of UCL, and other universities.
We have begun to capture this graphically, mapping UCL’s impact. We have initially used out REF 2021 submissions as baseline data, and can already show our research has, and is, improving the lives of many million people across the UK and around the world. Our aim is to expand this project, adding more examples from across the UCL community, including teaching, commercial and other activities, and from other universities across the UK to show the impact the sector has on every life in the UK.