Teaching & Learning


Excellence in Education and Student Experience

A statement on our core ambitions and beliefs about education excellence at UCL, developed by the UCL community.

Over the last year, our UCL community has engaged in extensive conversations about education, including through the strategy consultations and in developing our institutional TEF submission.

The intention was to identify UCL’s excellence and ‘distinctiveness’ in education by surfacing points of consensus about who we are and what we are seeking to achieve now and as we prepare UCL students and graduates for their futures.

An introduction from Professor Kathleen Armour, Vice Provost (Education & Student Experience)

It is obvious that our pedagogies, practices and processes in education must evolve continuously to adapt to new external contexts and remain relevant and sustainable. Our University-wide conversations, have sought to identify a set of core ambitions and beliefs about education that unite our UCL community and can provide a reference point for evaluating future developments and change projects.

As we noted in our 2023 TEF submission, UCL is a world-leading, research-intensive, multidisciplinary university located in the heart of London. We are a global community welcoming students, staff and collaborators from around the world. Founded in 1826, UCL has a proud history and heritage of championing diversity and inclusion, academic excellence, the freedom to question, challenge and disrupt, and the tolerance to debate and disagree well.

Our research is focussed on addressing the real-world challenges that matter to individuals and societies and, through our teaching, we aim to prepare outstanding citizens, leaders and innovators of tomorrow.

Today, UCL is the largest on-site HE provider in the UK, and also one of the most complex. Our UG and PGT student populations are similar in size and are taught across 94 academic units in 11 faculties. Each academic unit has its own history, identity, and disciplinary/ interdisciplinary strengths. In many programmes, students have opportunities to study across disciplinary boundaries.

A focus on ‘all’ students regardless of programme, department or individual characteristic, is a key feature of the regulatory framework in which we operate, and this provides an important contextual backdrop to the work we have undertaken to develop our statement of excellence.

Our students tell us they want to be stretched intellectually, to engage with current issues in their chosen field, and feel confident to go out into the world and make positive impacts. Together with the SU, we co-created a definition of ‘Educational Gains’ for the 2023 TEF submission to capture our beliefs about what all students can or should achieve by studying for a UCL degree.

Desired impacts ranged from career and academic impact to innovation and enterprise, social impact and personal impact. Positive educational features such as critical and analytical thinking, problemsolving, inclusion and interdisciplinarity were valued by both students and staff.

This is the context in which we opened conversations about excellence in education and student experience at UCL. Our aim was to identify points of consensus on the foundations of excellence in our current provision, and our shared ambitions for enhancing education for future students. The resulting document is a living artefact that will evolve over time. Meanwhile, many colleagues across UCL devoted time and energy to this work, for which we owe enormous thanks.

The conversations have been engaging and productive, and this statement of excellence is there to be used and debated as required as we plan for the future and the next 200 years of progressive UCL education.

Foundations of excellence

Education and student experience excellence at UCL is grounded in:

  1. Intellectual challenge, academic rigour, and our cutting-edge research;
  2. A critical understanding of our heritage and a shared belief in questioning, challenging, debating and disagreeing well;
  3. Engaged and productive partnerships between students and staff;
  4. Equality, inclusion, diversity, respect and care for our global community of students and staff;
  5. Strong academic disciplines and powerful cross/interdisciplinary collaborations;
  6. The desire to educate future citizens, leaders and innovators who will make positive impacts in the world.

Ambitions for excellence of the future  

We are ensuring continued and future excellence in education for all our students by:

  1. Innovating: We are finding innovative ways to bring education and research even closer to develop an exciting and globally distinctive UCL model of education;
  2. Enhancing belonging: Building on our heritage, we are enhancing the education and education experience of each individual by recognising, valuing and supporting difference and diversity, and connecting our community;
  3. Improving the Student Experience: We are continuing to deliver space, time and process improvements to provide a futureoriented education environment and infrastructure to underpin our distinctiveness and excellence;
  4. Celebrating education: We are ensuring that all staff who teach and/or support teaching are treated/valued equally, and that we preserve and revitalise those joyful aspects of education that underpin optimal learning;
  5. Reducing pressures: We are focusing on addressing specific education pain points for students and staff - for example around assessment, workload and timetabling - to enhance satisfaction and student and staff wellbeing;
  6. Leading and shaping new futures: We are adapting our education so it continues to support graduates to develop the knowledge and skills required to become leaders of tomorrow who can change the world for the better.

Frequently asked questions

How is ‘excellence’ being defined?

We have held year long conversations with the UCL community to reach a shared understanding of what we mean by ‘excellence’ in education. These conversations have surfaced a number of recurring themes which we have now drawn out as 6 key ambitions (link).

Of course the notion of ‘excellence’ will also be determined by external rankings and as we work to achieve our ambitions we are also laying the groundwork in the areas where we need to improve in order to achieve a Gold TEF rating, commensurate with a world-leading institution.

How are we going to achieve our ambitions?

There are a number of workstreams and projects already in progress which will help us address our challenges. We are using the rich insights gathered through conversations with staff and students to inform the direction of these projects. In some areas we will need to initiate new work and we are currently setting up groups to help us explore our ambitions around ‘innovating’ and ‘Leading and Shaping New Futures’.

What is the Extended Learning Opportunities project?

The Extended Learning Opportunities Project is one of the new projects we are setting up to help us achieve our ambitions. This group will focus on understanding what we currently offer to our students and the type of impactful learning experiences that students and staff have indicated add value. This could be internships, interdisciplinary project work, volunteering or one of many other exciting opportunities. We know these are happening in pockets across UCL already and we want to support existing and emerging opportunities to reach as many students as possible. We also want to focus on developing those areas which staff have indicated are a priority but can be a challenge to include in their curriculums such as experiential, hands-on activities, group work and interdisciplinary work.

There are a huge number of projects happening – how am I supposed to do all of them?

Wherever possible we are asking staff to review their areas and programmes through existing annual review processes and structures. The projects provide an opportunity to make some changes that you may not have previously been able to. For some activities additional support and guidance will be provided through central teams and HEDS.

It is also worth noting that many of the projects are interlinked and the governance and structures have been set up to inform one another. This means that participating in one project will enable and inform other pieces of work too.

How does the Extended Learning Opportunities project relate to the Programme Excellence Project?

Projects such as the Extended Learning Opportunities project are focusing on surfacing existing good practice and areas that are ripe for development (this maybe within or alongside the curriculum), i.e our educational priorities, this could be considered ‘content’. Of course we will need to find better ways to accommodate this content and the PEP project will help us review structures and identify possible ways to support this activity, which could be through shared module slots, space in the curriculum or space in the academic year.