UCL President & Provost’s Lunch Hour Lecture
By Kilian Thayaparan, on 19 October 2015
A diverse audience filled the Darwin Lecture Theatre last Tuesday (13 October) for the first Lunch Hour Lecture of the season, given by UCL President & Provost Professor Michael Arthur – as has become tradition for the opening lecture every other year.
Including staff, students and members of the general public, the audience were in attendance to hear more about the university’s recent accomplishments, its challenges and what lies ahead.
Professor Arthur began with a frank summary of his time at UCL, so far, stating: “I’ve been at UCL for two years now, and this place can throw up its challenges.” And for a university with so much reputation and history, he emphasised how important its values are to its success, adding that UCL’s current values, although a “bedrock”, are being revisited to adapt to the new challenges that it faces.
He also touched upon what it’s been like to take over from the previous UCL President & Provost Professor Malcolm Grant, explaining: “I’ve been told that there’s a difference between my style and Malcolm’s – I’ve been told that mine is more ‘managerial’, which I take as a compliment.”
And it is under the leadership of these two Presidents & Provosts that there has been a rapid rate of growth: UCL now has 37,000 students, up from 26,000 six years ago, and this is predicted to rise even further to 42,000, helping to reinforce its mission to be ‘London’s global university’. Crucial to this, says Arthur, is UCL 2034 – the university’s 20-year strategy.
Highlights to be proud of
Despite such a heavy focus on the future, he reminded everyone that there have been several recent highlights that UCL can be proud of. This included the Nobel prize for Professor John O’Keefe (UCL Cell & Developmental Biology), which “lifted the place massively”. He went on to recall attending the prize-giving ceremony, explaining that he was ”literally in tears”.
Another highlight was the results of REF2014, where UCL managed to beat Oxford and Cambridge in two out of three measures, making it the first time that these universities were not easily ahead in terms of research funding share.
Despite the positive results, he did note, however, that there wasn’t a huge funding increase and that there was still much work to be done.
Professor Arthur also spoke about UCL East, UCL’s new campus being built in Stratford. “No, I’m not building myself a palace on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park,” he joked, going on to explain that the university is in desperate need of space and that the creation of a new campus presents uncountable new opportunities with £100m of public funding.
The challenges ahead
Turning his attention to the challenges that UCL faces now and in the future, he first spoke about the changing size and shape of the institution, noting that the university must have detailed and efficient planning in space to support and make the most of its growth over the next few years.
He also emphasised the importance of the student experience at UCL, explaining that although many parts of the university are doing a good job in this regard, overall it is still “inconsistent” and “patchy”, and this has been reflected in the major student experience surveys, including the National Student Survey and the Student Barometer.
However, as he noted, there are several new initiatives that aim to improve this. These include the government’s Teaching Excellence Framework and UCL’s new Education Strategy, which incorporates UCL ChangeMakers – a programme that supports UCL students to create a research project focused on improving, enhancing or innovating the UCL student experience.
He also drew attention to equality and diversity, explaining that the university must continue to build on its Athena Swan Silver award and its Bronze Award in the Race Equality Charter, in order to realise fully its new equalities and diversity strategy.
“I’m the first to confess that we have more to sort out internally, but we can’t let that distract from our external goals,” Arthur concluded. In the brief Q&A session that followed, he stressed once again that these goals included UCL being committed, open and innovative – qualities that make it one of the best educational establishments in the world.
Watch the UCL President & Provost’s Lunch Hour Lecture in full: