Teaching & Learning


Learning environment

How student learning is supported by physical and digital resources; enriched by engagement with our community of scholars, researchers and professional practitioners; and tailored to the individual.

The primary determinant of a truly exceptional student experience is the quality of the interaction between academic staff and students.  It is supported by library and learning resources, IT support, student services, residential accommodation and the estate.” UCL 2034 institutional strategy

We are making significant and long-term investment in our physical infrastructure and in the academic and pastoral support that plays a crucial role in facilitating student success.

Our Connected Curriculum framework has the potential to transform our thinking about how education is made meaningful for specific sub-groups of students, and the Liberating the Curriculum strand of the Connected Curriculum (LE 3), on which staff and students are collaborating to identify how we move beyond the traditional white, western curriculum, is important in this context.

However, our student satisfaction metrics for academic support indicate that there is more to do, particularly for our mature and our BME students, and so our first priority has been to initiate an overhaul of our personal tutoring system. This was approved by Education Committee in 15-16 and is now being implemented.

Nevertheless, we consider that our continuation rates are strong – stronger, even, than the metrics indicate. UCL’s former policy on re-sits, in operation until 2016, was unusual within the sector.

Historically, we have required undergraduates to wait a full year to be reassessed; an unacceptable delay from our students’ point of view. We therefore piloted the introduction of late summer assessment in summer 15-16, and will be extending that pilot further for 16-17.

We intend to make late-summer assessment available across all programmes for the 2017-18 session.

Our analysis indicates that we are one of only a very small number of high-entry-tariff institutions in the UK to operate such a policy, and therefore our benchmark will have been heavily influenced by institutions where late-summer assessment is currently available to all students.

We currently report any student who has to take a year out in order to re-sit as ‘inactive’, and this is counted as non-continuation. However, of students matriculating in 2012-13 (TEF Y2), 17 of 88 were reported as ‘non-continuing’ when there were actually waiting for the opportunity to re-sit. In 2013/14 (TEF Y3), this was the case for 22 of 106 students. Overall, therefore, we suggest that the number of students who successfully complete their studies is higher than our metrics indicate, and we would argue that an assessment of our support for our students should be re-evaluated against this context.

Physical and digital resources effectively aid students’ learning (LE1)

We maximise opportunities arising from our central London location, and have been deploying our infrastructure budget strategically to prioritise investment in a high-quality student learning experience.

UCL students benefit from our central London location, with access to the British Library and to Senate House Library, as well as the British Museum and other significant cultural and intellectual resources. We enjoy close proximity to the city of London and the access to employers and internship and placement opportunities that this brings.

Students also benefit from our co-location, in Bloomsbury, alongside a number of other universities, within an informal ‘university quarter’, with the facilities and atmosphere that this implies.

That central London location can also pose a logistical challenge for us: we have limited physical space in which to expand, and our undergraduate student numbers have grown by around 14% in the past three years, from 15,640 in 13-14 to 17,846 in 15-16 (including affiliate students).

Nevertheless, we have made the provision of teaching and learning spaces a major priority in our long-term strategic Estates capital programme.

Over the 13-16 period we allocated £51m towards the redevelopment of our teaching estate and spaces which contribute significantly to the quality of the student experience. A further £77m of improvements will be delivered in 16-17, including major redevelopment and expansion of our refectory and student social spaces.

In 13-14 we allocated the last undeveloped area of land on our campus to house a major new Student Centre at a cost of £67m, which will combine direct student access to registry and support services with 1,000 new learning spaces. Ground was broken in 15-16 and we expect to open in 18-19. Consultation with students has been key throughout and sabbatical officers are full members of the Project Board.

In 14-15 we opened three significant student learning hubs (at a cost of £8m), and acquired space in Senate House to provide an additional 144 learning spaces. We have increased I&E spend on teaching spaces through a dedicated improvement programme by £1m p.a. from 15-16, and we also invested in innovative learning spaces, such as our Institute of Making, which opened in 2013, with undergraduate member numbers growing from 802 in 13-14 to 1,726 in 15-16.


We also recognise the importance of a comfortable and safe living environment to students’ academic success. In 15-16, we established a Task & Finish Group to address student concerns about halls accommodation, including the perceived lack of a sense of community.

With new senior leadership in this area, a rapid-response turnaround programme has already had major impact; our latest arrival survey indicates that 94% were satisfied with their overall experience of arrival at UCL, significantly higher than the 87% reported in 15-16. 92% agreed that they felt welcome and part of the UCL community, and 92% agreed that moving into student accommodation had been well-organised and straightforward.

IT infrastructure

We have made significant investment in the development and expansion of our IT infrastructure.

We take an inclusive approach to digital education support, which encompasses e-learning services as well as support for the broader student digital experience (WiFi, student computers, classroom technology and educational media provision). Capital investment in digital education has grown from £1.9m p.a. in 13-14 to over £3m p.a. from 15-16.  This core funding has been supplemented with an additional £3m in FY 15-16 and £5m in FY 16-17 to accelerate improvements as a direct response to student feedback. 

For e-learning, we focus on offering a small number of very large services, and ensuring that they are robust, reliable and well-supported. This has been a deliberate, strategic decision to ensure that we can scale and sustain each of the services we invest in.

Use of the Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) has nearly doubled since 2010, with c. 7m sessions in 13-14, 8.5m in 14-15 and 10.7m in 15-16.

We have also had considerable success with our lecture capture service (Lecturecast). In 13-14 the service made 2,640 recordings, with c. 160,000 views; by 15-16, we recorded 2,798 events, but the number of views more than quadrupled to over 650,000. The popularity the service enjoys with students has led to a strategic commitment to expand this still further by making lecture capture ‘opt-out’ by 18-19, and to expand coverage to large-scale seminar rooms.

Library services

Our strategic investment in Library Services reflects our commitment to facilitating research-based education for our undergraduate cohort across our 19 libraries.

SCONUL benchmarking demonstrates the scale of our investment in information provision against comparable universities, ensuring that students have access to excellent resources to support their learning and research. We deliberately invest heavily in information resources, with a spend of £9,907,992 in 15-16 (more than any of the other 121 UK institutions), and have particular expertise in digital resources.

Our Reading Lists@UCL initiative to make all course readings available online has gathered momentum over the last two years, and we now have 57% coverage of all modules (around 2,705 active online reading lists). Expansion of this provision was given strategic priority in 2014 in response to direct student feedback.

The 28-strong team of subject liaison librarians and site library staff provide support to students with the development of research skills, including well-attended induction sessions and information skills sessions offered to undergraduates through departments.

The 2016 ‘New to UCL’ survey indicates that 96% of respondents successfully used a library at UCL in their first few weeks of study.

The provision of learning spaces for students in library accommodation is also a key priority for us, and we have invested heavily in the quality of these spaces over 13-16. 3,864 study spaces were available to students in 15-16, and all learning spaces have now been refurbished (where necessary) and equipped with full access to data points and WIFI, at a cost of over £1.2m. As in other areas, our priorities for investment are determined with significant student input; our move to 24-hour opening in 2015 in all major libraries on campus was a direct response to student feedback, and we have invested substantially in self-service provision in all UCL libraries to ensure students can access resources outside of core hours.  As a consequence, the percentage of self-service book loans has risen from 24% in 13-14 to 77% currently. 

Student satisfaction with the library has remained consistently high over the TEF period at 88%. The quality of library provision at UCL is also indicated by growing figures and positioning for the number of annual visits to the Library. In 14-15, UCL was the 6th most visited Library in the UK and Ireland, with 2.3m visits. After a period of growth (including merger) the 15-16 figure stood at just over 3m – the second highest of the 126 university libraries surveyed in the UK and Ireland.

UCL Culture

UCL Culture makes a distinctive contribution to the learning experience of our undergraduates, making our four public museums and fifteen additional collections available to students, and operating the Bloomsbury Theatre and the Public Engagement Unit.

In 15-16, 11,823 students (approx. 85% undergraduate) participated in object-based learning activities in 141 modules within their taught programmes. These figures are up 79% on 13-14 (96 modules and 6,608 students).

A recent survey of over 400 undergraduate students across 20 UCL modules has demonstrated that collections-based work and object-based learning (OBL) helps students to increase their knowledge by between 25 and 75% over the course of just one handling session. Moreover, 62% of the students surveyed either agreed or strongly agreed that OBL is a more effective way of learning than listening to a talk or lecture.

Around 100 volunteering opportunities and placements within the museums were open to undergraduates, totalling 5,820 volunteer hours.

Students also have access to a professional theatre – the Bloomsbury – which dedicates 9 weeks each year to student performances. In 13-14 and 14-15, around 950 students each year were involved in acting, producing and teaching activities, contributing to 25 student performances in 13-14 and 28 in 14-15. The theatre is currently being extensively refurbished at a cost of £19.7m and will reopen in 18-19. Further evidence of the reach and impact of the Connected Curriculum can be found in the 15-16 decision to refocus the remit of our Public Engagement Unit to support the public dissemination of undergraduate research, in addition to that of our postgraduates and staff, with access to funding through the Step Out grant scheme.

Merging with the Institute of Education

We have maintained high academic standards during a period of considerable change. In 14-15, UCL merged with the Institute of Education, an almost exclusively postgraduate institution with 6,347 students and 774 staff (FTE).

The process of merging a highly specialist postgraduate institute into a comprehensive and multi-faculty university required a substantial investment of time by staff in Registry, Library Services and other professional services teams.

Against this backdrop, we are pleased that we have been able to carry out the reform of our academic systems and processes, including a revised annual monitoring process (introduced 15-16) and a comprehensive review of our assessment regulations (initiated 15-16), and plan to redouble our focus on the quality of the student experience as resource dedicated to merger has been freed up.

We are now drawing on the expertise of staff within the IOE, not only on higher education policy and delivery, but also in terms of understanding the secondary landscape, and adapting our teaching and student support accordingly.

Merger was also achieved without detriment to the student experience: students from the IOE continue to report high levels of satisfaction which reflects the smooth transition undertaken during the merger; 91% of IOE students reported being satisfied with the overall experience of their course in the 2016 NSS, and 88% of these students also agreed that their courses were well organised and running smoothly.

Environment is enriched by student exposure to and involvement in provision at forefront of scholarship, research and/or professional practice (LE2)

Students benefit from the strength of our research profile, and from regular contact with academic staff with international research reputations.

In April 2016, UCL employed 3,560 staff in academic and teaching fellow roles. This represents a considerable investment in academic expertise which can support our research-based education agenda. We submitted 91% of our eligible staff to REF 2014 (83% of whom were staff on contracts with teaching commitments) and in 2016 we recorded 1101 professors on staff. Our undergraduate students are therefore members of a learning community of active, influential scholars who are working at the leading edge of knowledge.

We have outlined (TQ3) how the Connected Curriculum will support our staff to teach students about the the applications of research and the challenges of creating new knowledge.

Our Global Citizenship Programme (GCP) demonstrates how our approach to research-based education can be expanded into extra-curricular, cross-disciplinary activity for undergraduate students, focusing on how research and researchers can contribute to the resolution of the world’s problems through collaboration.

This flagship initiative takes place in the last two weeks of the academic year, following the completion of undergraduate assessments. Open to all first and second-year students, the programme’s six academic strands bring undergraduates together in inter-disciplinary groups to develop collective projects, prepare their research for external audiences, produce innovative outputs (film-making, drawing, visualisation) and to experiment with the potential of learning and broadening their thinking beyond their taught programme.

Feedback from participants is consistently positive. In 15-16, 94% of students found the programme stimulating, and 89% would recommend it to others. Evaluative comments confirm that students appreciate the opportunity to work in mixed-discipline groups, as well as the freedom to experiment in a non-assessed environment.

Participation has increased considerably since its inception in 2012, from 415 undergraduates in 13-14 to 583 in 15-16. The team is aiming to work with 1000 students (including postgraduates) in 16-17. We have provided consultancy and advice to other institutions considering similar programmes, and the Academic Director was invited in 2016 to speak at the UNESCO conference on Global Citizenship Education in Seoul, South Korea.

Students’ academic experiences are tailored to the individual, maximising rates of retention, attainment and progression (LE3)

Our Education Strategy has personalised learning as the first of its objectives, highlighting our recognition of the importance of meeting the needs of students as individuals, and of fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Transition Programme

Our flagship initiative is our Transition Programme for all first-year undergraduate students, now in its eleventh year.

Every department has a specially tailored version of the scheme, which it runs locally with central support.

Each first year is assigned a Transition Mentor (a later-year student from their department) who works with them on a weekly basis in the first term to help them orient themselves within London, UCL and their academic discipline. Social mentoring is a priority in the initial weeks, with peer-assisted learning introduced once mentees are ready.

Over 13-16, consistent across all three years, around 80% of first year undergraduate students attended at least five mentoring sessions. In 15-16, 88% of mentees reported that they felt the scheme helped their transition to UCL; 92% felt it helped them understand what to expect of UCL and their department.

Two spin-off programmes from the Transitions Programme have been developed, with the first running in 15-16, and the second in 16-17.

  • The Being@UCL scheme is targeted at students from under-represented backgrounds, to help them maximise the academic and personal benefits of their time at UCL. 85% of the participants in the small-group workshops run by Student Psychological Services reported that they had learnt new coping strategies; 69% felt more likely to continue at UCL, and 67% felt more confident about studying at UCL.
  • We have also invested in support for students with autistic spectrum disorders, with a dedicated strand of our Transitions programme resulting in reported 100% retention amongst participants in 15-16.

We note the indications in our TEF metrics that our widening participation cohort are generally more satisfied than their peers with the teaching they receive (with a difference from benchmark of -0.5 for disadvantaged, against -2.2 for non-disadvantaged), highlighting the impact of the support we have put in place for this group. We will now be investing in a student-devised ‘Belonging’ programme for 16-17.

Supporting students with disabilities

We have refocused and reprioritised our support for students with specific needs, bringing expertise in-house wherever possible to deliver the best support we can.

Following the abolition of the Disabled Student’s Allowance in 14-15, we outsourced dyslexia assessments (which UCL funds for all applicants) to improve turnaround times, and refocused the UCL dyslexia support team’s work on the delivery of 1:1 support sessions (to 78 students in 15-16) and mentoring (to 130 students).

Termly disability awareness training sessions are delivered for staff as part of the UCL Arena programme. We have prioritised investment in mental health support, with the introduction in 13-14 of medical advisers (trained psychiatrists from community practice) who supplement the expertise of UCL’s own mental health team.

We believe we were the first university to introduce a telephone support service (in 14-15), investing £50k per annum in ensuring that students have 24-hour access to BACP-accredited counsellors for triage and initial support.

In common with all other education and student support activities, we have worked closely and collaboratively with UCLU and individual students to identify and develop service improvements.

Student focus groups are used to determine priorities for funding, and in 15-16, funding was secured to employ four graduate interns to develop a newsfeed and blog to help new students adapt to university. Further internships have been secured for 16-17. 

Ten student disability ambassadors were also recruited in 15-16 to provide 1:1 peer support and produce video resources to improve the disability declaration rate. Our students with specific learning difficulties report higher levels of satisfaction with the advice and support they receive with their studies (79% compared to 72% for students with no disability) and with the advice available when making study choices (77% compared to 71% amongst those without disabilities).


Our commitment to supporting the cultural, geographical, racial and sexual diversity of our student body, in line with our traditions of inclusivity and diversity, has been widely recognised.

We were the first university to admit women on equal terms with men, and to admit students regardless of race or background.

We continue to prioritise work to respond to the inclusivity challenges of the 21st century. In 2014, we became the first university to join the Stonewall Global Diversity Champions network, and we are currently the only university to hold both an Athena Swan Silver award (2016), and a Bronze Race Equality Charter Mark (2016), recognising major programmes of institutional action on equality and diversity challenges.

Our Liberating the Curriculum (LTC) initiative translates this commitment into curriculum development activity.

Following the high-profile ‘Why isn’t my professor black?’ debate event, chaired by the Provost, and attended by 350 staff and students, the LTC strand of Connected Curriculum was established and initiated a number of staff-student collaborative projects, ranging from work on diversifying reading lists, bringing patients’ perspectives into healthcare and a co-curriculum project on the ‘other’ in film. A series of alumni films around the theme of identity and belonging were also produced and disseminated.

In 15-16, a BME attainment summit brought together staff and students to produce an action plan specifically focused on projects to raise attainment and improve belonging amongst these groups. That plan will be implemented from 16-17. Finally, we are working closely with UCLU on zero tolerance for sexual harassment campaigns and on the expansion of mental health support services for students.