UCL Minds


S1 Ep5: transcript

This week, we’re looking at knowledge, skills and jobs in a future London. How has the pandemic affected education, and what lessons can we take from it in the future? How can we continue to attract and retain talent in an era of virtual working, and how will increasing digitisation augment learning and social justice?

Join special guests Prof Allison Littlejohn (Professor and Director of the UCL Knowledge Lab, IOE), Lalage Clay (Director of Education and Talent at London & Partners) and Diana Beech (CEO at London Higher) as they discuss the opportunities and advantages that London has to offer for students, residents and employers, its history and influence… and its indefinable magic.

Learning and working in a future London 

Diana Beech  0:03  
London couldn't operate without the business strengths in Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Allison Littlejohn  0:09  
This is future cities, the series that brings together some people exploring and shaping Porter's cities could be like in the future. I'm Professor Allison Littlejohn, director of the UCL Knowledge Lab at the UCL Institute of Education. And in this first six part series, we talk about London. In Episode Five, we're looking at the knowledge, skills and jobs of a future London. Now, I'm very pleased to say to delve into this topic with me is Lalage Clay, Director of Education and Talent at London and Partners, and Diana Beech, who is CEO of London Higher. Hello, hello, and welcome to this UCL podcast. Lalage, would you like to introduce yourself and say something about the magic of London?

Lalage Clay  1:03  
Yes, of course, Allison. I'm Lalage Clay, and I'm Director of Education and Talent at London and Partners, and we're the Mayor of London's business and destination agency. So it's our it's our job, it's our pleasure. It's our privilege to talk about London all the time. And if you talk to the management consultants of this world, they'll tell you that there are five things that make a city successful, certainly in business terms, and those are capital, talent, regulatory excellence, government support and demographic diversity. And, you know, I think anyone was could look around London and see how well we're doing on all of those, you know, capital with the City of London being the centre of FinTech and all things financial, with the amazing talent we have here with our universities, our further education, colleges and schools. Regulatory excellence, I think goes without saying we're at the centre of much of the world's legal excellence. And we have government support, of course we do and demographic diversity, you can sit on the tube or sit on a park bench and just watch this amazing diversity of London go past. So think of the practical things, we're doing great. But there's also just something a bit magical about London, I think there's something about the way all those practical, practical things come together in a kind of alchemy with things like culture, with the amazing art, the dance, or theatre, the music that we're in London, with our green spaces, around 35% of London is green space. And we're the world's first Park City because of that, and the connectivity. You know, we're midway between the US and the Far East. We've got amazing air connections, we've got amazing rail connections, it just means that Londoners continually sparked off each other and the other great things in the environment. And it just gives London that sort of that magic. We talk about creative energy all the time. And I think that's exactly what's happening with people rushing past each other and sparking something magical here. So it's it's one of the things that I think makes London an amazingly exciting place to spend time.

Allison Littlejohn  3:00  
And Diana, you know something about the wealth of education opportunities are available to Londoners across the city. Could you tell us a little bit about it? 

Diana Beech  3:08  
Yeah, sure. Thank you, Allison. So just to recap, I'm Diana Beech. And I'm the Chief Executive of London Higher. And for those who don't know where the representative body for over 40 universities and higher education colleges across London, and I think that gives you a little bit of an insight into how large and diverse the higher education sector is in our capital city. And actually, London has one of the largest and most diverse sectors of any city in the world. And London really is a powerhouse of higher education. I mean, collectively, if you put all of London's universities and he is together, they represent around 400,000 students and 100,000 staff. So lotton really is a powerhouse of he in the UK. And it means it's not just a major provider of education and skills, but it's also a major employer in the city as well. And obviously, I'm going to wax lyrical about higher education in London, but there really is something for everyone thinking about embarking on higher education in our capital. As I've hinted at London's higher education institutions are diverse. They range from large research intensive universities like yourselves at UCL. But there are also many small specialist conservatoires as well specialising in dance music, art, drama, and even scientific research institutes like the Institute for Cancer Research. And of course, in between all this there are many more high quality what I would call Technical and Professional universities as well. And these predominantly serve local people local Londoners working with local employers and helping them achieve high quality valuable local careers. And it's not just about traditional three or four year degrees either. I think London's universities really have always offered a wide range of provision from what we call level four and five, right up to level eight PhD qualification. So as I said, they really is something for everyone. It's flexible. We've got lifelong learning. And of course, we've got one of the most diverse student communities in the world as well, because we do have to remember that about 44% of London's home domiciled students are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and many of them also commutes. So, yes, something for everyone. And a great, exciting HE city.

Allison Littlejohn  5:28  
Well, thank you both for sharing these insights. But I'd like to really question about the benefits, particularly for young Londoners and the diverse communities. I mean, having a lot of young people around and diversity within London is one of the most exciting things about being in city. However, it is an expensive place to live. And you know, there are, there's a flip side of being in a very densely populated city. So I'd like to ask each of you a little bit about that and give us some deeper insight.

Diana Beech  6:03  
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as I've just hinted out, when I spoke about the wealth of London, sort of higher education provision, provision, it is a city that is catered for a young demographic that I said that many London students commute. So these are Londoners who will live at home, and many of them do have that home surrounding. So maybe cost is a little bit less of an issue in terms of home life, but that's they still have to factor in the cost of commuting as well. And we cannot deny the fact that the cost of commuting can can be higher in London than most other places. But also for sort of international students or those students moving to London from elsewhere in the UK, many universities have that student accommodation set up, which is priced within the grants and the loans that students can access. So students in London can get a sort of maintenance on on top of for living in the city. So you know, you can live within your means here. And I mean, in a way the benefits sort of outweigh the costs, in a sense, you have access to the world leading cultural scene on your doorstep, the museums or galleries or theatres, everything you like, and all of that as well really enhances the student experience and the young person's experience in the city.

Lalage Clay  7:17  
I think that's absolutely right. Diana, so much of London is free. You know, it's free to walk around London, it's free to see the Roman remains in the city. It's free to walk around Regents Park. There's a number of discount cards available for students, museums and galleries. Of course, the the vast majority of those are free, which is a tremendous cultural resource for Londoners of all ages. So exactly as you said, you can't get around the fact that to live in a capital city does cost can cost more than living somewhere rural but my world, what a lot to get out of it.

Diana Beech  7:52  
I was wondering if I could ask the question as well, actually, to you, Allison, reverse the tables a bit. So I'm interested in your position as a professor at UCL. I've obviously spoken about the wonders of London's University scene. But I'm just wondering, from your perspective, if you think that London is still a good place for universities to do what they do, because I'm aware that you know, coming out with a pandemic, there may be some criticism that Okay, okay, we can move online, we don't need to be located in a certain place. I'm just wondering how you feel about this?

Allison Littlejohn  8:23  
That's a great question. Over the past year, we've seen a massive change in how universities teach triggered by the pandemic, not only in UCL and across London, but right around the world. And because of the lockdown restrictions, we all as academics had to work from home, and our students to study from home or in their dorms. This can be quite challenging for our students who were in central London and had very small places to live. But nevertheless, we ended up with a very thriving academic community. And most campuses like UC, teaching previously had been in classrooms, lecture theatres, studios, hospital labs, all the places that Lalage talked about in terms of the, the the magic of London. And essentially, we've seen the biggest experiment in university teaching ever where all of that face to face experience, essentially, right online. One of the problems over the past 18 months is that we didn't have time to plan. Announcement was made that teaching would move online a few days. So the way that we changed was literally over the weekend. And that means that we all tended to use the teaching methods which used on campus lectures and tutorials and transfer these online because we didn't have time to design online learning in a way that would make the most of the online then it became very, very difficult. So we can rethink now that we're going to go back onto campus and London as a city draws students from around the world because of the unique experience that we talked about of living and studying here, the diversity in the culture and social dimensions, and also the ability to get to the heart of some of the world's leading organisations. For example, in the UCL Knowledge Lab, our Digital Media MA students work with a British Film Institute, which is literally around the corner. Medical students are in UCL Hospital, Guys and Great Ormond Street, and the British Library in British Museum are right in our doorstep. So we have a unique opportunity. Our provost, Michael Spence has been working with the students at UCL to make sure they get what they want as we move back on campus during the pandemic. And it's clear that they want to be back in the city. However, longer term, I don't think we're going to go back to the business, as usual. We'll predominantly be on campus. And we'll make the most of our London location. But I think that we're going to see online teaching will enhance that experience to insurance students or the blended or hybrid approach. So I think we're going to see much more of the mixing of the physical and digital and have a new version of digital London. I would like to ask Lalage a question. London has some of the world leaders in the search today. But throughout history, how have some of the thinkers in London shaped policy and debate for the rest of the country or the world?

Lalage Clay  11:29  
It is one of the great pleasures of London, isn't it, the way you can see that sort of thread of history running through the cities. So I talked earlier on about Roman remains, and you know, to walk past some of Roman remains in the City of London, and then send your glance upwards to those astonishing glass towers if it raises the hairs on the back of my neck time after time. And you can see the same thread running through all sorts of, of areas. For instance, you know, in the law, that common law is derived from English legal practice over the centuries. And you know that the High Court, the Supreme Court here in London here, of course, hear cases from all around the world, because our law is recognised as very high quality and our principles of equity and fairness and the way they're built into the law are recognised around the world as a kind of beacon for that, that sort of practice. And the same in science, you know, that the Royal Society, which is the UK's National Academy of Sciences was founded right here in London in 1660. And it's been a crucible of ideas ever since with famous scientists like Isaac Newton and Michael Faraday and Benjamin Franklin, just bumping up against each other in that environment and developing scientific discoveries in really extraordinary ways which have gone on to benefit people around the world. And again, you know, much of the work of discovery of DNA was done in the 1930s, just off the Strand by Francis Crick, and James Watson, and Watson Franklin. And we now see that echoed in the name Francis Crick Institute, which is our centre for biomedical research. And it's just just off of Euston Road and in Kings Cross. So these are places where there is world class research going on, which has immense benefits for the whole of the country, and around the world. So in London, we do, I think it is very important to remember that we are the capital of the UK, and it's our our businesses, Londoners to send out the the good work that we do around the UK, and to ensure that everyone has a chance to benefit from it and to drive manufacturing to drive all kinds of Business and Entrepreneurship around the country.

Diana Beech  13:40  
I think that's exactly right, Lalage. And I just like to add to that as well, because I think, you know, London has been, as you say, sort of front and centre of the global scientific endeavour. Yet at the same time, I think the geopolitics of the world has changed dramatically over the past year, I mean, not least from COVID, but also from Brexit, as well. So I think at the same time, we can't afford to be complacent in our standing. And I do think we need to sort of show the world as you say, all that we've got to offer. And because you can see a bit of a chiasm emerging, particularly in the domestic political narrative here in the UK at the moment, which I have to say is almost becoming quite anti London and anti-South East at the moment. And that really stands in direct opposition to the international global Britain narrative that the government's trying to put out as well, which absolutely needs London as its gateway to the wider world. So I do think it's up to us to sort of be making that case. And actually, it was great just to see the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan actually visiting the new mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Braving just to see how London is absolutely integral to business and industry in the rest of the UK. And in turn, of course, London couldn't operate without the business strengths in Yorkshire and elsewhere. So really, it's about appreciating the different r&d strengths that exist in this country and harnessing them for London's benefit for the region's benefit, and of course for national benefit as well.

Lalage Clay  15:05  
Yes. Isn't that the case that we often talk about the Golden Triangle, which is London, Oxford and Cambridge, but there's a much bigger Golden Triangle, which is London, to Manchester to Edinburgh. And all those universities coming together and transmitting knowledge among themselves. And that does again, create a great sense of common purpose, which is great for all of us.

Diana Beech  15:26  
Yeah, and I like that idea of a much larger Golden Triangle. And I think that's a good point to ask Allison, the question actually about them. You know, we've touched on r&d just now. Will digitalization will augment or will it diminish like progress of social justice here in the capital and elsewhere?

Allison Littlejohn  15:42  
Well, that's a great question. As someone who lives in the very north of the UK, very close to John o'Groats in in Caithness, people who live there can feel very, very far away from from the cities from from places like Edinburgh, and nevermind London. But with the digital, there is an opportunity here to really reverse what we do and take into consideration the perspectives and the needs of everyone it can it can really revolutionise how we operate so that we don't simply have the big metropolis, whether whether it's London, Birmingham, Manchester, or Edinburgh dominating the rest of the country, but to really look at how people think and how they want to be in different ways of living rather than as or trying to be as one. But there's a flip side to the use of digital technology. Of course, during the pandemic, technology has helped us keep working while staying safe home, connect family, friends, shop, continue our studies, be entertained, basically live our lives. But everything we do generates data and how that data is used is not always transparent. So there are major ethical issues. What is of concern is the so called big tech companies, Google, Microsoft and others have become a seamless part of our lives. And we don't really understand how they're influencing us now, they've been a lot of open debates around companies like Cambridge Analytica, and so on. We need to have open transparent regulation, about the collection and use of data, not simply consent forms that we've all read them, click them and not understood them. But proper government, or even transnational regulation about how algorithms are created and used and how data is collected. We need proper data ethics to be the starting point of the creation of these systems. Now I'm very lucky within the UCL Knowledge Lab we do research on the future of learning and communication. And some of my colleagues, Professor Kaska Porayska-Pomsta and Dr. Celina Morden, are leading the way internationally in the ethics of artificial intelligence. We need more work like theirs.

Diana Beech  18:11  
it's obviously fantastic to hear that UCL is sort of leading the way in this work, because I know from my own work in sort of higher education, this is becoming a big issue in the university space. And I think that the more that we can do on this, as the world is changing, the more we can get on the on the front foot. 

Allison Littlejohn  18:26  
Absolutely. In the future, when we integrate physical places like London in the physical experience of being there, plus digital, we're going to open up a box of living in different ways through digital technology.

Diana Beech  18:43  
 Yes, we're all at the forefront of one big science experiment at the moment, aren't we?

Allison Littlejohn  18:47  
Absolutely. Okay, so I'm going to ask both of you, what are your final thoughts?

Diana Beech  18:54  
I suppose my final thought is London has endured as a capital city. And I hope I'm sure like the rest of you, it will continue to endure and to thrive. But to do that, as I said, Before, we we can't let our guard down, we have to work to make that happen. And I think the onus is on all of us to embrace the change and just find the opportunities in the change that we're living through now, and to harness them for the benefit of our great capital cities. So we can continue to be that global city. And so that we can continue to continue to deliver for real, local Londoners as well. Because ultimately, the success of our country depends on being able to deliver for both of these communities, and for the nation as a whole. So I suppose that's my final thoughts.

Lalage Clay  19:37  
I think that's a that's a great one, Diana, and just to pick up on something else that was saying earlier about the pandemic and about how fast universities had to adapt to the new digital world and literally in the space of a couple of days, take your collective expertise and put it online. I did think that was absolutely extraordinary that you were able to do that so quickly and so successfully and you know, I've heard it from students many times that this year's experience has been, there's been different in all sorts of ways, it hasn't necessarily been worse, you know, if it was a real appreciation of the extraordinary efforts that have gone into giving them the best possible experience in the circumstances, and the same high quality of intellectual debate and the same high quality of knowledge sharing, and so on. So I think that's extraordinary. And I do think it's a kind of, it's a representation really, of what has happened for all of us in London that we have yet again, demonstrated our amazing resilience in the face of circumstances which none of us ever thought that we would have to come to grips with. And we often talk about London or somewhere where people have survived extraordinary things over the years, we survived the Great Fire of London, we survived the blitz, and we're all still here. We're all kind of facing forward. And I think we are seeing our willingness to adapt. And although, as Diana said, we are living through an extraordinary scientific experiment, I think we can all feel very positive about that, and very positive about what the future holds for us, because we have the skills and we have the enthusiasm, and we have the passion for social justice that makes us want to do the best for ourselves, but makes us want to do the best for other people as well. And that's true nationally. And that's true, globally. And I think we can all feel we have a lot of hearts.

Diana Beech  21:15  
I think that's a really positive thought ending. I'm wondering, I can throw the question back to Allison as well. So if you've got any final thoughts?

Allison Littlejohn  21:22  
Well, for me, we've talked a lot about the space in London and the institutions and so on. But what the pandemic has taught me is London is really all about the people. Personally, I've missed having the students around, particularly at UCL where we really have people from 150 different countries is really diverse and that makes it super exciting. London will retain its relevance for students and its desirability is a place to live work and study in the future. And I'm looking forward to rediscovering the city post pandemic new and unexpected ways. I can't wait to be back on campus.

You ever been listening to Future Cities brought to you by UCL. To hear more podcasts from UCL search for UCL Minds, wherever you download your podcasts. This podcast is an Aunt Nell production. The producer and editor of this episode was Shivani Dave.