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Anthony Smith's seasonal reflections

21 December 2012

Vice-Provost (Education) Professor Anthony Smith looks back on the changes that have taken place in higher education over the past year and discusses what 2013 might hold.

Professor Anthony Smith, UCL's Vice-Provost (Education)

It’s that time of the year when you reflect back on what has happened over the past 12 months and think about what the next year might hold. For me it is a reflection of my first 12 months at UCL. Coming as I did from a small and specialist institution, my overriding impression has been of the astonishing diversity of UCL. It has been a great pleasure getting to know and working with colleagues from across our wide range of disciplines.

Two recent events have reminded me that UCL really is London’s Global University. In November, I hosted a reception for our Chevening Scholars. The Chevening Scholarship scheme, named after the official residence of the Foreign Secretary, was founded nearly 30 years ago and today represents an extraordinary network of outstanding Masters’ students from around the world. UCL has the highest number of Chevening Scholars of any UK institution and it was inspirational to hear their stories, which came from as far afield as Chile and Japan and most points in between. More recently, on 12th December, there was the reception for all UCL Scholars. The number of UCL Scholars exceeds 300 and spans the whole spectrum from undergraduate taught through Masters’ programmes to doctoral research.

With so much outstanding work occurring on a daily basis across UCL, it is too hard to pick out particular highlights, but taking a step back from the day-to-day, it is likely that 2012 will prove to be a landmark year, not least because of the introduction of the new undergraduate tuition fees arrangements for home and EU students. The consequences are proving profound for students and institutions alike. 2012 has also been the year that MOOCs (massive open online courses) have entered our consciousness. Much has been written on the subject, including my November column, and on 14th December the Open University announced the launch of their Future Learn initiative. Clearly, MOOCs are going to be a feature of 2013 too.

So what else does 2013 hold? Needless to say, the final run-in to REF2014 will be at the fore. My office will be taking forward the issues identified in this year’s ‘Taskforce on Innovation in Teaching and Learning’ exercise. Amongst many others, three will predominate, two of which relate to space. The first will be developing the plans for the new student centre on the site adjacent to the Bloomsbury Theatre on Gordon Street. Architects have been appointed and the project board will soon be meeting for the first time. The second will no doubt be equally as complex and that is to seek to improve the timetabling and room allocation process. I hope this exercise will also enable us to gain a more strategic oversight of the quantity and quality of the teaching and learning estate. The third is to work with colleagues from across the institution to develop a self-assessment framework for periodic programme review – something we have committed to doing in the White Paper 2011-2021. I hope the framework will allow colleagues at the disciplinary level to reflect on some of the big questions posed in the White Paper, including that of points of entry to undergraduate programmes.

I’ll conclude on a similar note to that on which I started: our global reach and influence. One new initiative this year, which has come out of UCL’s International Strategy 2012-2017 (password-protected; overseen by Professor Michael Worton and the Office for International Affairs), has been the International Teaching Excellence Bursaries. Following a successful first round, which has enabled UCL colleagues to spend time in institutions across the world, the scheme has now been extended to not only allow UCL staff to travel, but also to allow staff from overseas to spend time at UCL. I was reminded of the importance of bringing new ideas of successful education practice to UCL when I was at a meeting of the Knowledge Advisory Group of the World Economic Forum recently. With tongue firmly in cheek, a distinguished educationist said, “The thing with education theories is that they are like toothbrushes. Everyone has one and no one wants to use anyone else’s!”

Enjoy the Christmas break and I look forward to working with you in 2013.

Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education)

Page last modified on 21 dec 12 12:47

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