Peek behind the Portico: how much do you really know about UCL?

12 October 2020

Stuck for a conversation starter? We’ve got you covered with these 12 questions about UCL’s past, present, people and places.

UCL's IP promo image

Term 1 is a time to meet new people. It’s a time for exciting discoveries and interesting conversations with new friends from varied backgrounds – strangers with random interests you didn’t even know were a thing!

Wherever you meet – on Zoom and Teams, across the kitchen table or at a (socially distanced) pub quiz – be the one to bring the knowledge of all things UCL!

UCL Introductory Programme

The UCL Introductory Programme is designed to help you learn about the university’s past, present, and future, as well as introduce you to some important UCL places and people. You can engage with new ideas and ways of thinking to help prepare you for your studies. It also holds the answers to some pretty fascinating questions that are sure to spark debate and discussion, whatever the situation.

(Disclaimer: You need to find the answers yourself…you didn’t think we’d make it that easy, did you?)

How much do you know about... UCL's past?

When UCL first opened in 1829, there were only 630 students at the university. Admittance was open to boys as young as 15 and no qualifications were required to study here. Today, UCL is home to over 40,000 students from across the world. It is a stark difference. When you arrive at UCL, you inherit the legacy of those first arrivals and the generations of students that followed. But, how much do you know about our past, or how it’s shaped the UCL experience today?

On your way through UCL’s Student Centre, you will encounter a man who spent much of his life thinking about important philosophical problems, like “Should we sacrifice one person for the greater good of all?” or “Is a good intention more important than a good outcome?”. He sits inside a glass case in a corner by the stairs, still dressed in 18th century clothes and holding his favourite walking stick.

  1. Who is this man and why is his preserved body in a box at the entrance to your student centre?

It’s oft-repeated that women were allowed to study at UCL on equal terms to men from 1878, but do you know the realities of everyday life that lie beneath this claim?

  1. What did it mean for a woman to “pass-in” to UCL, and what role did “Lady Superintendent” Rosa Morison play in women’s lives here for 29 years? 

Your Students’ Union is the political expression of the student body, controlled by you through the annual election of seven sabbatical officers who represent your interests on a range of issues from education to welfare and equality. The Union is your route to over 300 clubs and societies run by, and for, students at the college. It’s also home to a subsidised bar, Phineas Bar.

  1. But what does an oak statue of an 18th century Scottish Highlander, Phineas McLino have to do with the history of student life at UCL, and its evolution over time? 

      How much do you know about... UCL's present?

      UCL has committed to creating green spaces on campus comparable to the size of two football pitches, and to make UCL free of single-use plastics by 2024 and zero carbon by 2030. Whether you want to engage with sustainability as part of your studies, volunteering activities, or in your free time, at UCL there are opportunities for everyone to engage with sustainability.

      1. Do you know how well we are doing at meeting our targets today? How much of UCL’s energy is from renewable sources and how much of our waste is sent to landfill?

      The journey to build a university that genuinely and actively reflects values of equality, diversity, and inclusion continues today. UCL is still grappling with our historical role in, and the current status of, the teaching and study of eugenics.

      1. Who are Galton and Pearson, and how is UCL taking steps to address our troubling history as the home of the first centre of a new scientific discipline called “eugenics”?

        The context in which we think can shape how we think. Legacies of power are reflected through law, land, and economics, and are also reflected in our formal knowledge, which is generally produced by those in society who are in a position of power to develop, propagate, and institutionalise it. 

        1. UCL has committed to addressing this the negative impacts of this, in part, by ’liberating the curriculum’, but what does this mean?

            How much do you know about... UCL's people?

            You are one of thousands of students whose life journeys converge at UCL. Some of you will be Londoners embarking on a new life within a familiar city. Many more of you are from further afield, looking forward to experiencing London and perhaps Britain for the first time. The paths are global, the motivations many, but the result is the same: you will become part of a unique group of students that holds in common the decision to be here, together, at this place and time.

            This was as true in the 19th Century as it is today. UCL has always brought together people from across the world, whose impact continues to be felt today.

            1. How have the UCL educated Chōshū Five had a lasting impact – positive or negative – on Japanese society? 

            We’re proud to count innumerable successful innovators, artists, cultural icons and titans of science and commerce amongst UCL’s alumni.

            1.  You may know that Coldplay was founded in our very own Ramsay Hall, but can you guess which world-renowned film director cut his teeth in the basement of our Bloomsbury Theatre?

              Speaking of illustrious UCL folk, through our research, many minds at UCL have worked together to improve lives and communities and create real world impact with their disruptive discoveries.

              1. What do you know about Kathleen Lonsdale?
                1. She pioneered of one of the most important aspects of science in the 20th century
                2. She was a 20th Century political campaigner committed to the peace movement and prison
                3. She was a pioneer struggling for gender equality in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
                4. All of the above. (Hint: It’s nearly always ‘all of the above’! Find out more…)

                How much do you know about... UCL places?

                UCL was founded as a secular, open university – the first in England to welcome students from any religious or social background.

                1. But where can you see UCL’s founding values reflected in the university’s architecture?

                Whilst UCL was the first university in Britain to have no religious affiliation, UCL has a Chaplain, prayer and meditation facilitates, and long-standing relationships to nearby centres of faith like the London Buddhist Centre, the Central Synagogue, the Radha Krishna Temple, and the Goodge Street Mosque.

                1. Do you know which of UCL’s famous places was originally founded as a lecture hall and research museum dedicated to Jewish history?

                (Bonus facts: It bears a Hebrew inscription at its entrance, translated as “remember the days of old, consider the years of each generation” and you might have spotted Leonardo Di Caprio walk its aisle during the 2010 film, ‘Inception’!)

                  How much do you know about... our future?

                  At the heart of a bustling city in a fast-changing world, UCL doesn’t stand still either. You are now part of a dynamic institution where students and staff work together to address the problems of the present and shape the world of the future. An exciting part of UCL’s next steps is already in the making. UCL EAST is our new campus in the Olympic Park.

                  You, our students, are future of UCL and want you to help us fill this next section of the Introductory Programme with new and exciting topics that challenge and inspire. This includes:

                  • cutting-edge research of UCL’s Grand Challenges that seeks solutions to the world’s most pressing problems
                  • developments in UCL’s Education for Sustainability where all students can learn how to create a sustainable future
                  • your input, your views, your work, and your collaborative projects.
                  1. How will you make the most of your time at UCL to shape our future?

                  Well, only you know the answer to that…

                  Discover more...

                  To discover the answers to these, and many more intriguing questions about UCL, explore the Introductory Programme [UCL login required].