By Rebecca L Caygill, on 10 June 2014
I’m pretty new to UCL (two weeks in to be exact) so when I saw an event was being run on UCL 2034 – the new strategy to move the university forward over the next 20 years – I jumped at the opportunity to go.
I wanted to find out what questions the UCL community has about the strategy, which issues they think should be addressed and any thoughts that they have about how best to do so. Intrigued by what I might hear, I attended ‘Any UCL Questions?’ on June 5 and you’ll be pleased to discover that it didn’t disappoint.
Jonathan Dimbleby, chair of the event and UCL alumnus, reflected on his time studying here in the late ‘60s, back when there were only 4,500 students (can you imagine?!). He said that there have certainly been many changes, aside from increasing student numbers, since then, including more diversity and engagement with different communities, but added that there is still some way to go. This neatly opened the topic for discussion – what is UCL’s long-term interest? Where should we as a university go, and importantly not go, next?
Each of the panel, comprising Professor Michael Arthur (UCL President & Provost), Professor Dame Hazel Genn (Dean of UCL Laws), Professor Mark Miodownik (UCL Mechanical Engineering) and Vimbai Dzimwasha (UCL student), spent a tightly regulated two minutes describing what UCL means to them and those aspects of the strategy that they’ve identified as important.
The impression that I got was that UCL is an exceptionally inspiring place to study and work, with a buzz of creativity and enthusiasm from its outstanding students and staff. For the strategy to be successful, it was agreed that it needs to recognise and nurture UCL’s strengths through ‘light management’ so as not to stifle individualism.
A recurring theme was the importance of involving students in the university’s world-class research and providing access to leading researchers and the best facilities/services, while balancing teaching staffs’ research and educational responsibilities. Mark Miodownik mentioned his pride in UCL for delivering fully for one of his students – from fostering an idea and providing the creative environment in which to develop it, right through to the financial and mentoring support given in setting up a company based on the final product.
The panel didn’t shy away from tough issues,or give answers that skirted around the subject.
Two challenges that stood out for me were a) the need to improve students’ experience and wellbeing, and b) for increased diversity at all levels.
Hazel Genn said that there is a good community in Laws as they have a strong, established and successful pastoral care system, something which could be applied across the university.
Regarding diversity, all parties agreed that this is an issue at UCL, along with many other UK institutions, and needs addressing with debate open on how best to do so.
Other topics discussed in the Q&A session included: tuition fees and the changing demands of students; support of staff with teaching and research commitments; communication with, and involvement of, students around the new strategy; closing the gap on Russell Group rivals in relation to student experience; improving diversity of staff in senior positions and supporting applications from students from a variety of backgrounds; and safeguarding the integrity of research in the light of lucrative sponsorship deals.
Overall, I thought the discussion covered many important challenges that UCL 2034 aims to address. It emphasised that we collectively own the future of UCL and that the floor is open for suggestions on how we work together to achieve its goals.
A video of this event will be made available shortly. View photos of the event in the image gallery below: