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Q&A: Ian Murdoch, Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Ophthalmology

By Guest Blogger, on 1 June 2018

Ian is an Honorary Lecturer at the Institute of Ophthalmology; his area of research is epidemiology and public health with particular relation to the African continent and glaucoma. He is also leading a sub-specialty training programme for ophthalmology in West Africa.

We were fortunate enough to get some time with Ian to find out more about his experience and projects.

How long have you been at UCL and what was your previous role?

I was previously a Senior Lecturer since 2004 and before that was working as a clinician with honorary status at UCL. I did my preclinical medical training and intercalated BSc at UCL before moving on to Westminster Medical School and returned as an MD student from 1989 to 1991, living in Nigeria working on a major project in River Blindness.

What working achievement or initiative are you most proud of?

The communities we were working with in River Blindness are the first in West Africa to now be declared free of the disease.

Tell us about a project you are working on now which is top of your to-do list?

For ten years, we have been developing sub-specialist training in ophthalmology for West Africa. The principal is training ‘IN West Africa, FOR West Africa BY West Africa’ so no person need leave the region in order to obtain first class ophthalmic care for their condition. This project has involved organising regular meetings with relevant people in West Africa and has resulted in the following advances:

  • The training is modular with online (via smart phone) courses followed by intensive 1-2 week ‘hands on’ courses for surgical and other skills needing face-to-face training.
  • We have raised £3.5 million and built a new integrated eye unit and training facility in Accra Ghana in which to run the ‘hands on’ courses.
  • The training is being integrated in the West African College of Surgeons Fellowship in ophthalmology.
  • Train the trainers courses are being undertaken to bring the training principals and methods right up to date throughout the region.

What is your favourite album, film and novel?

Album: Echo System by Omm (this choice changes regularly)

Film: Black Pond

Novel: The Borderliners Peter Hoeg

What is your favourite joke (pre-watershed)?

“Sir, you are drunk.”

Churchill replied: “And you, Bessie, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning, and you will still be ugly.”

…or Spike Milligan’s epitaph on his gravestone

‘I told you I was sick’

Who would be your dream dinner guests?

Barrie Jones, Fred Hollows and Hannah Faal (sorry, all ophthalmology).

What advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t take on too many things at once: do enough to keep you busy but be able to complete well.

What would it surprise people to know about you?

I am now learning bass guitar.

What is your favourite place?

A live concert.

Bartlett team hosts ‘Flash-back City’ architecture workshop in Riyadh

By Sian Gardiner, on 23 May 2018

Flashback city workshop in RiyadhA team from UCL’s Bartlett School of Architecture has run its first interactive workshop for architecture students in Riyadh, at Al Faisal University, in collaboration with the Saudi Arabian art organisation Minhaj.

Co-organised by Director of Short Courses at The Bartlett, Sabine Storp, along with first year teaching staff and The Bakerloos, a collective made up of four Bartlett alumni, the ‘Flash-back City’ workshop explored the power of collaboration and collective imagination in urban architecture.

Explaining the structure of the workshop, Sabine said, “Through a gamified interface, participants collectively drew an urban fabric based on crowdsourced memories – creating large scale propositional, collaborative drawings through the collation of personal memories of a city or culture.”Architecture workshop in Riyadh

She added, “The co-founder of Minhaj, Fahad Al Saud, is a Bartlett alumni. Minhaj and I saw an opportunity to expand workshops and short-courses to Riyadh, where the local architectural education is becoming more diverse and exciting.”

Tailored to the unique historic context of Old Riyadh and Ad Diriyah, the workshop was well received by Al Faisal students, with one participant commenting: “It’s exciting and different to any workshop we’ve participated in locally before.”

As a result of the successful collaboration, Sabine and team are now planning a new series of workshops about art, architecture and design, to take place later in 2018.

Ask GEO: Professor Gudrun Moore

By Sian Gardiner, on 22 May 2018

Gudrun is Professor of Clinical and Molecular Genetics at UCL’s Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health and GEO’s Pro-Vice-Provost International.

Here, she talks about her work as co-chair of the ‘Personalised Academic Global Excellence Student Support’ (PAGESS) working group, alongside Dr Clare Goudy, Director of Education Planning at the Office of the Vice-Provost Education & Student Affairs (OVPESA).

The group was set up with the aim of increasing integrated academic language skills support for students across UCL.

What existing support is there for UCL students looking for help with academic writing?

At the moment, the provision of academic communication support is spread across the university: the Faculty of Arts & Humanities has pioneered the set-up of the ‘Writing Lab’, primarily a peer-support service; the Centre for Languages & International Education runs several courses for students, and also supports on-programme teaching by academic staff in a number of faculties. The Institute of Education has the best-developed provision, with its own Academic Writing Centre, and there is also support at the Students’ Union.

So, although excellent, writing support at UCL is found in pockets, with some faculties extremely well-served and others with limited support for teaching staff and students.

Through close analysis of the provision, as well as consultation with academic staff, we identified that the present set-up wasn’t sufficient to meet demand. Comparative analysis of other Russell Group universities also showed that UCL’s provision was lower than the standard across the sector.

And this led to setting up the ‘PAGESS’ working group…

Yes – through our institutional surveys, we’ve been aware that student requests for academic writing support have been increasing over time, particularly from international students, but also from home and EU students too.

The 2016-21 Education Strategy identifies this as a key area of development for UCL, and the proposed expansion of our capacity in this area also dovetailed with the Global Engagement Strategy, with its strategic aim of ‘cultivating our global outlook to offer our students the best possible preparation for global lives and careers’.

The working group includes representatives from across UCL. What are the benefits of cross-departmental working?

Our intention is to develop a service that works for all faculties at UCL, and so cross-departmental working has been vital to the success of the project. We brought together representatives from all existing academic communication support services, from Library Services and from a number of faculties.

We also consulted with faculty tutors and used existing survey data to corroborate our working assumptions. One of the strengths of the project has been the collaboration between OVPESA and GEO. We’ve both enjoyed working together very much, and have brought different perspectives to bear, with Clare helping me to understand the complexity of policy-making and institutional projects, and me helping Clare to understand the potential impact on departments and the intricacies of the lives of academics and the pressures they are facing.

Given our existing dispersed provision, this has been a complex project with many different interests to reconcile – but having an excellent collaborative relationship has allowed us to make progress with good humour!

What support will the new Academic Communications Support Centre provide?

The support centre will first provide initial ‘triage’ support to students, helping them to identify the problem with communication that they need help with. They’ll then be directed to one of a number of options for developing their ability to communicate in an academic context.

The centre will offer programmes and workshops to students, as well as supporting academic staff in departments to integrate academic writing support into their existing programmes. Under the centre umbrella, the Writing Lab will expand its peer-support provision across all faculties, and we will also be developing the online resources that students can access without a referral.

What are next steps for the project?

We’re currently advertising for a Director of the Centre for Academic Communication Support (a working title, to be reviewed once the director is in post).

We’re hoping that they will be able to start in September to develop and start to implement the business plan, so that we can start to increase our provision in this area from the 18-19 academic session. We’ll keep faculty and department staff updated on our progress through our regular GEO and OVPESA communications.

Think you know Africa? Think again: UCL GEO to host third annual ‘Knowledge Africa’ symposium

By Guest Blogger, on 18 May 2018

By Zarah Bennett, Interim Partnership Manager (Africa and Middle East)

On 12 June 2018, UCL Global Engagement Office’s Africa and Middle East Regional Network will host the third annual Knowledge Africa symposium: ‘Africa Stories: Changing Perceptions’, bringing together diverse speakers to share untold stories and hidden perspectives on the continent. The event’s overarching themes will be Africa’s position in the quest for a global governance of the commons, and contributions to global prosperity.

More than 60 years after a euphoric wave of decolonisation began sweeping through Africa, the dominant ‘bloc image’ of the continent continues to be shaped by narratives of gloom that portray it as endemically poor, helpless, and rife with bad governments and internecine conflicts. This image is simplistic and wrong.

Most people in Africa exist in varying states of privation and governance challenges, but the continent is one of the richest in terms of natural resources, culture, innovation and resilience. Far from being helpless and perennially beholden to powerful networks of patronage from the geopolitical West, Africa contributes more to the global order than is widely acknowledged.

In response to the student voice and feedback from Knowledge Africa 2017, this year’s event has been developed, produced and managed by the UCL student community, with assistance from the GEO (Africa and Middle East) team.

Speakers include: 

Nick Dearden from Global Justice Now, whose keynote presentation in the morning session will challenge some prevalent perceptions and myths about Africa and explore ‘How the world profits from Africa’s wealth

Simon Anholt who is widely recognised as the instigator and seminal thinker in the Nation Brands and Place Brands concepts and field of study and practice. Simon’s keynote presentation in the afternoon session introduces the ‘Good Country’ concept and ‘Global Vote’ project, which aim to encourage people to think about what countries contribute to humanity as much as what they achieve for their own citizens. Simon will be joined by Madeline Hung from the Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity  for the afternoon’s panel discussion.

Michael Amoah is a Visiting Fellow at the LSE and has published widely on African politics, the international politics of Africa, foreign policy, conflict and security. He also has interests in international political economy, development studies and international development. Michael’s presentation will be based on his forthcoming book The New Pan Africanism: Globalism and the Nation State in Africa.

Dorothy Baziwe is the Executive Director of Shelter and Settlements Alternatives: Uganda Human Settlements Network (SSA: UHSNET). In the context of the global migration crisis, and Uganda’s unique approach to the issue in Africa, Dorothy will present a fascinating case study about how SSA: UHSNET supports livelihood projects for refugees and displaced persons in Uganda.

Michael Walls is a Senior Lecturer at UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU) and Course Director for the MSc in Development Administration and Planning. Based on his long-standing engagement with the challenges of livelihoods and informality in various African cities, Michael is highly regarded as a respected thinker and advocate on issues of development and political transitions in the Horn of Africa. Michael’s presentation will focus on ‘Representative democracy in Somaliland: finding accommodation between elections and clan-based discourse’.

Oscar Mwaanga is a social justice activist, social-entrepreneur, innovator and educationist at EduMove and an Associate Professor in Physical Activity, Education and Development at Solent University. For the past 22 years, he has led the development of internationally renowned Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) programmes that have impacted communities in over 30 countries. Oscar will be speaking about ‘Changing the African story to redeem international Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) as an alternative development approach’: Critical reflections from a 22 years multiple engagement in SDP.

Lilian Schofield is an associate Teaching Fellow and Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning programme at UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU). Lilian’s presentation, from a feminist perspective, explores the untold stories of fortitude and resilience of women trapped in ethnic and religious violence in Kaduna State, Nigeria.

Nick Anim is a research student at UCL’s Development Planning Unit (DPU), and an activist in the Transition Towns Movement. Speaking from a localism/globalism perspective, Nick’s presentation will focus on ‘Degrowth: How overconsumption in the Global North impacts development in Africa’.

What does gender equality have to do with global engagement?

By Sian Gardiner, on 11 May 2018

This blog post is an extract taken from a speech that UCL’s Vice-Provost International Dr Dame Nicola Brewer gave at a joint UCL alumni/British High Commission reception in Singapore in March 2018.

At UCL, global engagement and global citizenship are things that we take seriously. The first strategic driver of our Global Engagement Strategy is to offer our students the best possible preparation for global lives and careers.

And we have a flourishing Global Citizenship Programme for our students that takes place in the summer term and which enables them to work in interdisciplinary teams on global challenges. That programme is (of course!) open equally to female and male students.

In my family, we were lucky to be able to give our own children (one girl, one boy) a good education, a global outlook, the appetite and confidence to travel and learn about other countries other cultures and to be comfortable with diversity.

Those are things that an in ideal world every child would be able to experience. I want every student at UCL – actually, I want every child in the world, but you have to start somewhere – to have the opportunities I was able to give our children. So how can that equal, global access be achieved?

One of the critical starting points in achieving real equality is finding male allies. In the home (where I was lucky, again, to have such a supportive partner), and at work (the new Director of the LSE, Dame Minouche Shafik, talks about the ‘holy trinity’ for working women: a supportive partner, a supportive boss and good childcare). Men and women need to work together for equality. It’s a cause that’s most effectively advanced by creating solutions together.

We need to reach out across countries, too. I think you need to start with the local, at home. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero of mine, advocates that you should, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

So, start local but then go global. Or, as UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy says, ‘Think global, act together’. And the way we act, and what we choose to act on, is equally important.

Sometimes people ask me how they can do that. Professor Dame Athene Donald, Master of Churchill College Cambridge, gave some great tips on International Women’s day this year.

Her blog started with a quote from one of my favourite novelists, George Eliot. In her 1876 novel Daniel Deronda, she wrote, “And when a woman’s will is as strong as the man’s who wants to govern her, half her strength must be concealment.”

Professor Donald continued, “Many women need to live their lives like that, even today… a strong woman may be seen as a threat.” And her blog then listed three things that everyone can do:

  • Amplify the voices of a timid person, not necessarily a woman, though it might be, who makes a sensible comment that is talked over or ignored.
  • Support someone you see being victimised or fretting over something.
  • Be an active bystander; don’t ignore other people’s uncomfortable actions. If it’s clear things are getting out of hand, step in if it’s safe for you to do so.

Professor Donald finished her blog by referring to how far we’ve come. But I don’t think it’s far enough, and each of us has a role to play in making sure we keep moving forward.

At UCL, we call ourselves London’s Global University, and we can be a beacon for equality, as well as for world-class education and world-leading research.

Nicola is the Gender Equality Champion on UCL’s Senior Management Team and Co-Chair of UCL’s 50:50 Gender Equality Group 

CEU head endorses academic freedom for the wider good in UCL speech 

By Sian Gardiner, on 23 April 2018

Prog Michael Igantieff speech at CGHE conferenceIn an increasingly authoritarian era, it is more important than ever to defend academic freedom as a right with huge benefits for wider society, rather than merely a “privilege for professors,” the Central European University (CEU)’s Professor Michael Ignatieff has argued in a speech at the annual Centre for Global Higher Education conference at UCL.

Appearing as the conference’s 2018 Burton R. Clark lecturer on 11 April, the Rector and President of the CEU in Budapest used the platform to urge people to see universities as “counter-majoritarian institutions,” just as a free press and an independent judiciary are seen as essential to counteracting majority governments.

Following an introduction from Dame Nicola Brewer, UCL’s Vice-Provost International, the CEU head’s speech touched on authoritarian turns to higher education in countries including Russia, China and Turkey, with Ignatieff warning of an emerging picture in which “single party regimes are everywhere privileging control over academic quality and openness to international academic life because they see academic freedom as a regime threat.”

Fighting back

Professor Ignatieff and the CEU have experienced the threat he referenced first hand. The institution is embroiled in an ongoing battle with the Hungarian government over its location in Hungary after it passed a law in April 2017 imposing varying restrictions on overseas universities in the country, including the mandate to maintain a campus in their home country.

Michael Igantieff and Nicola BrewerIgnatieff explained however that the subsequent outpouring of support for the CEU, which has included 75,000 marching through the streets of Hungary in opposition to the government decision, taught him that “universities should not underestimate their public support [nor] the power of their networks.”

Importantly, he realised, despite the institutional disposition of universities to be quiet, thoughtful and avoid conflict, “You sometimes have to fight a political battle to defend academic freedom.”

Academic freedom matters

Professor Ignatieff went on to admit that before this threat to the CEU, so close to home, he had “never really thought that hard about academic freedom. It seemed to be one of those little perks that middle-class educated people get to have.”

Now, however, he has realised, “We are not just fighting for a corporate privilege for ourselves; we are defending a counter majoritarian institution whose function is to serve and protect and defend the whole society’s capacity to know anything at all. That’s why academic freedom matters. If we defend it as a corporate privilege, we are done for. And that’s a central message that I have learned.”

Uncertain future for CEU

Professor Ignatieff said that the “thumping two-thirds majority” for Viktor Orbán’s government in Hungary’s recent parliamentary election means that the prime minister “now holds all the cards” when it comes to the CEU’s future.

The CEU boss added however that the outcome will depend on whether closing the university “turns out to be sufficiently unpopular inside his own party”.

Search for truth 

Professor Ignatieff closed his speech by urging universities across the world to continue with its “unpopular job”. Institutions, he said, “have to train students that knowledge is extremely hard, that it’s a discipline you have to follow and once you’ve got it you have access to the most important thing a democratic system needs, which is the capacity to find out what is true.”

“It is an unpopular job and it’s a job that people may not want to hear. But it is our job and we have to defend it with courage and without any embarrassment. This is the moment when we really, really have to believe in what we do.”

Defending Academic Freedom: Interview with Dr Naif Bezwan

By Guest Blogger, on 11 April 2018

 By Miriam Matthiessen, UCL’s Cara Student Ambassador

Dr Naif Bezwan Dr Naif Bezwan is a scholar from Turkey currently at UCL as a fellow through the Council for At-Risk Academics (Cara).

Founded in 1933 by Britain’s foremost academics and scientists to help refugee academics escape Nazi Germany, Cara assists those in immediate danger, those forced into exile, and many who choose to work on in their home countries despite serious risks. UCL has partnered with Cara since 2006.

Dr Naif Bezwan had been an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Mardin Artuklu in Turkey since January 2014, when one day in October 2016, he received the news that he had been indefinitely suspended from his post and all civil service by emergency decree.

This was due to an interview he had given to a Turkish newspaper, which related to core areas of his academic interest and expertise, including Turkey’s political and administrative system, accession to the European Union, and foreign policy.

In the interview, Naif stressed the danger of using military force at home and abroad to deal with the Kurdish question and democratic aspirations of citizens at large, through tackling an essentially domestic issue by military means and conducting cross-border military operations.

Only a couple of hours after its publication, he received an order from the university administration, in which his reflections were described as evidence of support for a “terrorist organisation” and “undermining national security”, and used as grounds for suspension. The dismissal was issued prior to the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.

Alleged links

Naif is one of a number of academics, teachers and civil servants from Turkey dismissed from their jobs in the aftermath of the failed coup in July 2016.

According to a UN Report, over 100,000 people were reportedly dismissed and suspended throughout Turkey from public or private sector jobs for suspected links with the coup organizers.  Over 40,000 staff were allegedly dismissed by the Ministry of Education, mostly teachers. This included some 10,000 teachers in South- East Turkey, over 90 percent of whom were serving in Kurdish-speaking municipalities.

Interview with Dr Naif Bezwan

This was not Naif’s first disciplinary investigation. The first one took place in February 2016 after he signed a ‘Petition for Peace’ together with 36 colleagues and a total of 1,128 academics, calling on the Turkish government to end military operations against its Kurdish citizens. Signatories of the petition were targeted by a campaign of abuse, violence, and death threats.

In many public speeches, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accused the petitioning academics of “treason”, “support for a terrorist organization” and of threatening “national security,” which promptly resulted in numerous investigations, suspensions and dismissals.

Naif said he sees a great risk in the increasingly authoritarian regime, which governs the country “essentially through extralegal means unbounded by rule of law and the most basic principles of a democratic and accountable government.”

Finding a fellowship

Naif left the country for the UK in November 2016 – just days before the passports of all of his colleagues, subject to the same decree-law as him, were revoked.

In early 2017 he was recommended to apply for a Cara fellowship, for which he was found eligible in February.

He was granted a full fellowship at the Department of Political Science at UCL where he has been working since June 2017, doing research on Turkey’s political and administrative system as well as issues of Kurdish Conflict resolution and authoritarianism.

Coming to the UK meant having a breathing space in comparison to his colleagues who were not able to leave the country in time, and are therefore prevented not only from taking public jobs but also from seeking opportunities abroad.

For this reason, Dr. Bezwan continues his scholarly and public engagements as far as he can while in the UK. He is involved in Academics for Peace UK, and together with colleagues, has established a charitable institution, the Centre for Democracy and Peace Research, which aims to provide funding to colleagues in need back home and beyond.

In Naif’s own words: “Living in a country without concern of being exposed to harm, unjust treatment and intimidation, having the possibility of living under decent human conditions, and working in a friendly, international and inspiring academic setting, as UCL is, is of immeasurable value.

In a very critical period of my individual and professional biography, the Cara fellowship provides me with an opportunity and essential basis to continue with my life and studies in dignity and safety. The value of this support, and the importance of the institution which has provided, and continues to provide, hundreds of scholars under risk with a dignified foundation for their personal and professional life, cannot be emphasized enough.”

Ask GEO: Dr Karen Edge 

By Sian Gardiner, on 27 March 2018

Karen is a Reader at UCL’s Institute of Education and GEO’s Pro-Vice-Provost International, alongside Professor Gudrun Moore. Here, she explains what her role entails and the value of job shares.

Tell us about your role in the GEO as Pro-Vice-Provost International (PVPI).

I job share the role of UCL’s Pro-Vice-Provost (International) with Professor Gudrun Moore, from the Institute of Child Health. Our core role is to lead and collaborate with UCL’s networks of Vice-Deans International and Regional Pro-Vice-Provosts.

We bring people together once a month for lunches to share information about what’s going on across UCL. We also serve an ambassadorial role and also act as Nicola [Brewer]’s deputy when needed.

That’s the formal part of our role – the informal role is being a bridge between the academic community and the professional services community. A lot of what we do relates to the translation of how a particular set of institutional policies will influence the academic community. I also try to make sure that we are very evidence based in our work and bring UCL research into our decision making and practice.

You’re an academic by trade – what led you to apply for the PVPI role?

I’m Canadian, I’ve worked and conducted research and consultancy for DFID [the Department for International Development], Action Aid and the British Council. I’ve worked in over 30 countries conducting research, so I’ve always had a strong commitment to working internationally. I’m also interested in what an institution can do to support academics interested in working in that way, with their partners overseas.

As a graduate student, I was hired as a consultant to help develop the international strategy for the Ontario Institute for Studies and Education at the University of Toronto, so I’d had a bit of experience in the international side. As Nicola and the GEO team were developing the Global Engagement Strategy, I had a vested interest in thinking about how it would sit within UCL and the Institute of Education. When Nicola pointed out that there was the possibility of the PVP role as a job share, it became incredibly attractive.

What are the benefits of job sharing the role?

I don’t think there are very many people who’d be willing to give up their entire academic practice to take on a role centrally. Sharing the role has meant that I could continue doing research and working with my doctoral students and serving the IOE, but also be an advocate for academics and provide a leadership function within the GEO.

Job shares are important because they open up opportunities to a range of different people. There’s great value within professional services of trying to work closely with academics. A job share, like we have, allows academics to work alongside professionals and contribute to the work. The role has allowed me to grow and develop a new sense of UCL from the GEO perspective.

What are you working on at the moment?

One of the projects I’m working on with Human Resources and other departments is developing a set of global leadership competencies, which will be a set of practices that will align very closely with UCL’s revised values and behaviours. They will signpost a core roster of skills and knowledge that faculty, staff and students should consider developing to assist them in their global working. We are planning to create a resource to show where training and development is already on offer and work to see where additional supports may be possible.

What’s your favourite part of working in the GEO?  

I think we have an amazing team. We recruit people from a lot of different backgrounds who bring different skills to the question of what we can do to support UCL staff and students in making the most of their current and future global engagements.

My most favourite part is when GEO actions make a difference to academics on the ground. That happens almost daily – whether that’s support with an MoU or making a connection in country. We’re always able to answer a question and if we can’t, we can push them towards someone who can.

Lastly, with International Women’s Day this month, could you share your top piece of career advice for women?

I think the best advice is to ask people if they’re comfortable “ordering off the menu”. One of the things I noticed moving to England was that people are less inclined to do this: when you go to a restaurant you take what’s there, and if something’s wrong you may hesitate to send it back. Globally, the approach to ordering is completely different.

So my career advice to a lot of women is to ask yourself if you’re comfortable ordering off the menu, and if something’s not right, are you willing to say it’s not right? And if something’s not as it should be, are you willing to put in the effort to make it better? I think those are the two things that can accelerate your career.

Resilience, beauty and delicious food: My impressions of Fukushima, Japan

By Guest Blogger, on 23 March 2018

Students on the Fukushima visit in March 2018By Connor Galbraith

I had to double take – tucked away near the bottom of the weekly UCL Student Union newsletter was a call for applicants for a funded week-long trip to Japan, to research and engage with the community recovering from the 2011 tsunami in Fukushima.

I’d visited Japan twice before several years ago as a tourist, and I couldn’t believe my luck that here was an opportunity to visit again in a more, shall we say, ‘useful’ capacity, and help strengthen the already significant ties between UCL and Japan.

After a quick interview in December 2017, I was delighted to be selected by the UCL Global Engagement Office and Professor Shin-Ichi Ohnuma, a native of Fukushima, who would act as our group leader. Less than a month later, I was on a plane bound for Tokyo – funny things can happen when you actually read your emails!

Intensely sobering

Reaching Haneda airport just outside the city, I joined other Masters and PhD students from the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, as well as students from the UCL Academy. We met a government official from the Fukushima prefectural government, who accompanied us on the four-hour coach trip to the prefecture.

He explained that during the week we would be visiting areas of the Fukushima coastline most severely affected by the 2011 tsunami, and other regions the Fukushima Tourism Association believed would interest international tourists.

We embraced every aspect of the trip – from the relaxing ‘onsen’ (traditional Japanese spa) to the delicious food and drink including ramen, tempura and sake.

This was my third visit to Japan and I have a decent grasp of the language, but I had only a limited knowledge of Fukushima beyond the media headlines that I had read back in 2011 when the world learned about the deadly tsunami.

Affected by a ‘triple disaster’, Fukushima was struck on 11 March 2011 by an earthquake, the resulting tidal wave, and an explosion on the site of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor.

Seven years have passed since the disaster, but I was still unprepared for what I saw. Pictures and videos in the media cannot do justice to the scale of the impact that day had, especially on the local residents. Moving through the evacuated areas was intensely sobering.

All around us, buildings had been ripped apart by the strength of the earthquake. In a town where the evacuation order is yet to be lifted, I saw through a house with the walls ripped off – you could still see a shelving unit in the hall with the family’s shoes on it, unchanged from seven years ago when they were forced to evacuate.

Environmental and social challenges 

On the trip we learned about the environmental and social challenges the people of Fukushima are facing, such as the underpopulated and abandoned areas of formerly thriving towns. Since then, thorough decontamination efforts have taken place to open the roads back up to the public, and strict food monitoring policies have been introduced to address the unfounded rumours of Fukushima’s produce remaining tainted by the nuclear fallout. An official at the nuclear plant in Fukushima

On the penultimate day, having worked until sunrise the night before to have it ready, I gave a speech in both English and Japanese to local businessmen, press, and government officials at our leaving reception.

It was so important for me to truly convey how moving each and every person involved in the reconstruction effort’s courage and determination to rebuild their lives was to all of us, and I felt doing so in their own language was the least I could do.

I spoke about how the whole community had inspired us with their strength, kindness and sense of humour. A strong local community is essential to disaster management and revitalisation, and we left with no doubt about the future of Fukushima.

Incredible resilience

Since the disaster, Fukushima has received a lot of international attention, focusing mainly on the problems the region is facing; this attention will only increase now Japan is hosting the Olympics in 2020, and I hope that the international press will start to cover the Fukushima that I witnessed across my five days.

The world should know about the delicious food, the beautiful scenery, and, most of all, the world should learn about the incredible resilience of Fukushima’s people as they respond to the disaster with a courage and vigour that should inspire us all.

Japan is more than just Tokyo; visit Fukushima, the prefecture will surprise you.

International Women’s Day: How gender equal is UCL’s student body?

By Sian Gardiner, on 9 March 2018

On 6 February 1918, the UK’s Representation of the People Act extended the right to vote to almost all men, plus women who were over the age of 30 and able to meet minimum property qualifications. Ten months later, on 14 December 1918, 8.5 million women were able to vote for the first time.

Going back a further 40 years, in 1878, UCL became one of the first universities in England to admit women on equal terms with men.

This year, to mark these milestones in the march towards equality, UCL has been hosting a series of events and exhibitions. And here at the GEO, we thought it presented a great time to take stock of the progress we’ve made, and analyse in a little more detail just how well UCL is doing in terms of equality – as well as the higher education world more generally.

Steady increase in female students

Taking a look at the gender data graph provided by GEO’s Strategic Data Manager Alejandro Moreno and pictured below, it’s clear that UCL admits more women than men at both post- and undergraduate level.

Since 2007, the overall figure has grown steadily, moving from a 52% female-heavy student population up to 58% in the current academic year.

UCL gender data graph

While there are of course variations from faculty to faculty, the overall number of women studying at UCL is at its highest rate among postgraduate students. In 2017-18, for example, the percentage of female postgrad students is as high as 62%.

Record highs of women at university

The dominance of women at UCL is echoed across the wider UK higher education world. In 2017, record numbers of women in the UK went to university. According to a report in The Independent, the latest figures show that teenage girls are now over a third more likely to go to university than boys.

Data collected shortly before the current academic year showed that across the UK, 27.3% of all young men were expected to go to university this year, compared with 37.1 per cent of young women.

Clearly, the UK has come a long way since UCL first admitted women on equal terms with men. According to the BBC, the latest official figures show 55% of women entering higher education by the age of 30, compared with 43% of men.

Debate rages over the reasons behind this new high in the proportion of women in higher education, with everything from an exam system based on coursework to the underachievement of white working class boys suggested as factors. But taking a broad look at the higher education world indicates that the gender gap can’t simply be put down to a question of economics.

World gender data graph

In fact, more data collection from Alejandro shows that small island developing states are the most likely to see a higher proportion of women in HE (58.8%) in the world, followed by developed countries at 54.6%.

Room for progress

Of course, there is still room for progress. Recent reports show that despite the dominance of women among student bodies, there are still only 27 women vice chancellors in the UK (six in the Russell Group), and only 24% of professors are women.

In addition, as UCL’s Vice-Provost International and Gender Equality Champion Nicola Brewer commented recently in her speech, ‘In praise of difficult women’: “I’m aware that it’s not always a binary choice. And increasingly I’m trying to think about equality through a more intersectional lens.”

Echoing this sentiment and speaking following the launch of a diversity report from the Royal Society of Chemistry last month, Lindsay Harding, senior lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, noted that there’s a fundamental issue with the collection of gender data.

“Gender data has a big limitation in that it’s collected in a binary way,” she said. “Recent surveys show that 0.4% of the UK population don’t identify with binary gender. We need to look at how we gather gender data to be more inclusive.”