Teaching & Learning


Introduction and context

Drawing on UCL’s traditions of disruptive thinking and interdisciplinarity to offer our undergraduate students a ‘research-based’ education.

UCL made the following narrative submission to the 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework, TEF.

TEF was introduced by the Government in 2016 ‘to recognise and reward excellent learning and teaching.’ It is an annual exercise implemented by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). In 2016-17, participating institutions will receive TEF awards of Gold, Silver and Bronze.

Our narrative submission was supported by institution-wide data about teaching quality (from NSS), learning environment (including student retention) and student outcomes (Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey).

Our students

“Our goal is to make UCL a global leader in the integration of research and education, underpinning an inspirational student experience.” Professor Michael Arthur, UCL President and Provost.

At UCL, we draw on our traditions of disruptive thinking and interdisciplinarity to offer our undergraduate students a ‘research-based’ education.

We teach them what it means to do research, and how to conceptualise, pursue and present the results of their own lines of independent enquiry.

We are ambitious for our students, and aim to develop them in the round, as global citizens, so that they secure highly-skilled employment on graduation.

We attract an ethnically diverse and high-attaining cohort of intellectually curious and creative undergraduates, with around 42% of them joining us from outside the UK in 15-16.

They achieve strong results at the end of their programme of study, with a consistent 89% of undergraduates achieving a first or 2:1 degree annually in the 13-16 period.

We have high absolute continuation rates (indicator of 3.4% or 96.6%), a reflection of the support we offer students throughout their programmes, and we have an excellent track record of supporting them into employment (as our 95% employment and 84% highly-skilled employment indicators confirm).

We also recognise, however, that our students are dissatisfied with some important elements of our provision, and, in particular, with how they are assessed and receive feedback. There was a specific fall in 14-15 in rates of satisfaction, and, although this may be related to this cohort’s status as the first to pay the £9k tuition fee, our performance in the NSS has reinforced for us just how important it is that we respond quickly and directly to student concerns, given the sizeable investment they are making in their futures.

The introduction of an education strategy

Our Education Strategy 2016-21 confirms how seriously we have taken our student satisfaction metrics.

Its objectives reflect our determination to address the issues that our students have identified, responding particularly to the impact of our recent growth, and the implications of an undergraduate cohort that is 14% larger in 15-16 than 13-14.

We developed the strategy through wide-reaching consultation with staff and students and it sets out a clear path to improvement, predicated on a commitment to work in partnership with our students towards our objectives. The strategy is ambitious and we do not underestimate the scale of the task we have set ourselves.

Nevertheless, the Education Strategy is also evidence that our trajectory has more momentum than the metrics suggest.

In this submission, we aim to offer a wider narrative of cultural change at institutional level: to provide evidence of the impact of sustained intellectual and financial investment in education at UCL which cannot yet fully be reflected in our metrics.

A programme of change at UCL

Extensive change was inaugurated by the establishment of a new post, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs), which Professor Anthony Smith took up in 2012, and the 2013 appointment of Professor Michael Arthur as UCL’s President and Provost.

UCL’s ambition to become a global leader in the integration of research and education stems directly from their commitment to education as core to the university’s mission, now embedded in our long-range institutional strategy, UCL 2034.

In 2013, we also welcomed a new Director of the Centre for Advancing Learning and Teaching (CALT), and, in 2014,  a new Registrar and a new Director of Academic Services.

Following merger in 14-15, we have also been able to benefit from the IOE, UCL's Faculty of Education and Society's expertise in higher education policy and practice as a key influence on our priorities and activities. With this new leadership, our work towards far-reaching change is beginning to bear fruit, as the gradual rise in our satisfaction metrics indicates. We expect the full impact of this change to be reflected comprehensively in our metrics by 2019-20.

As we shall set out in the rest of this submission, this programme of activity has included the introduction of a new and potentially transformative framework for designing programmes in a research-intensive institution, the Connected Curriculum (TQ3); an overhaul of our regulations to facilitate greater flexibility for staff in designing and delivering programmes; and the significant expansion of structures which promote student participation and leadership in all aspects of education development, particularly through ChangeMakers (TQ1).

This is against a backdrop of strategic investment in infrastructure and resources, including the prioritisation of funds for teaching and learning spaces within our wider Estates Masterplan (LE1), and a commitment to the development of innovative co-curricular activity, such as our Global Citizenship Programme (LE2), student entrepreneurship and volunteering schemes (SO2).

Change on the scale that we envisage requires a long lead-in period; this submission summarises the progress we have made over the last three years.