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Why individual actions can make a world of difference: My time at the 2018 One Young World Summit

By Guest Blogger20 November 2018

By Isha Kulkarni

Once every year, over a thousand people between the ages of 18 and 30 are chosen as One Young World delegates and a prominent city somewhere in the world prepares to host them for four unforgettable days.

Representing organisations large and small – multinationals, non-profits and universities – and countries far and wide, there is only really one thing that binds them: the belief that anyone can make a difference.

If someone had told me when I started my first year at UCL that I would be the university’s representative at One Young World this year in the Hague, Netherlands, I would have laughed in their face. I come from a privileged family, well-off enough to afford overseas tuition. I have never done anything incredibly extraordinary; I just grew up with the values of giving back ingrained in me. I may be fortunate, but there are so many that are not, and the least I can do is help in any way I can afford.

Power of the individual 

So, I did. I volunteered for local NGOs in Mumbai while in high school. I aided waste management initiatives in the community. I worked in drought-prone rural Western India and realised that pursuing civil engineering was not only something that interested me, but also something that would help me make a difference. After I started university, I volunteered with Engineers Without Borders UCL and then UCL Engineers in Action. I continued volunteering in Mumbai during the summers and worked on affordable technology during my research internship after second year.

This is why UCL Global chose me as the university delegate – and One Young World made me realise that it was acceptable that I had not made a world-shattering discovery or received an armful of awards. I had still pitched in, in any way I could. That is what One Young World is about: speeches, workshops and excursions that inspire you and remind you of the power of the individual. The fact that one person can create change, however small that change may be. You do not need to have the largest bank balance or the greatest personality: you can change things just as you are.

Community feel 

One Young World also reminded me of the power of togetherness. Tabata Amaral, a delegate speaker at the summit, said: “A dream that’s dreamed together becomes a reality.” One Young World was more than a summit in that sense – it was a community. It was the feeling of being in sync with 1,900 other people from around the world, from countries I had never heard about. It was about a group of people wanting the same thing for the world and taking steps to accomplish that.

The summit was divided into a multitude of topics such as Environment, Health, Peace & Justice, and Human Rights – but the primary message I took from each of the plenary sessions, each of the workshops and each of the keynote speeches was the same. Changing the world is an uphill task: we cannot escape the problems that plague society today.

Doing our best 

Be it the refugee crises in different pockets of the world, the fundamental gender issues brought to attention by the #MeToo movement, or global warming affecting our oceans, forests, and cities, we have a long way to go before we can justifiably say that we have been triumphant.

But we also have so much to celebrate. Somewhere in South Africa, a woman builds and runs schools for underprivileged youth after quitting her job at a multinational private equity firm. Somewhere in Colombia, a young man has dedicated his life to influencing legislative changes for improved social welfare.

At UCL, we conduct an awe-inspiring amount of research on sustainability, education, human rights, global cooperation and the Sustainable Development Goals as a whole. We are doing our best in any way we can. And this concept, at its root, fuels me.

Every one of us can change the world if we put our minds to it. Following One Young World, I have promised myself to do just that. I hope that in some way, shape or form, you will, too.

Ask an Academic: Daisuke Kawata, Professor of Astronomy

ucypsga5 November 2018

Daisuke Kawata is Professor of Astronomy at UCL’s Department of Space & Climate Physics, based at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

He was among the recipients of the inaugural UCL-University of Toronto seed funding in 2017, to encourage collaboration between academics at the two institutions. A year on from the initial funding, we caught up with him to hear more about how the collaboration is progressing.

How did you first become interested in astronomy?

My undergraduate degree was actually in Engineering, but when computer simulations started getting bigger and bigger, I became interested in using computers to understand physics and how the universe is made up. I then became fascinated with the evolution of the Milky Way. So I moved from undergraduate Engineering to a master’s course in Astronomy, and I did a PhD in Astronomy in Japan.

Where has your research taken you?

After my post doc in Japan, I worked in Australia for about four years, and I then went to California in the USA. I worked there for three and a half years or so. Now, at UCL, I feel lucky to be part of this research-intensive institution. The research level in the UK is very high and lots of people gather in London: it’s an international environment. At the moment I’m working with colleagues in the Computer Science department, so the opportunities to work with people elsewhere in the UCL family is exciting.

You were one of the recipients of the UCL-University of Toronto seed funding for collaboration with academics at Toronto in 2017. What are you working on together?

Our research aims to understand the structure of the Milky Way, as well as how it formed and evolved. It’s quite an exciting moment for us because the European Space Agency launched a space craft called Gaia in December 2013, which is observing the motion of over a billion stars in the Milky Way, and they release intermittent data to the community so that we can use the satellite data for our research.

As you can imagine, if you’re in the forest looking out at the trees, it’s very difficult to understand how big the forest is and how the trees are distributed – and the same applies for our galaxy. You need a physical, computer model to understand the Gaia Data. So that’s what our collaboration has set up. It’s a computer simulated Milky Way model, and our hope is that this computer model will be used to picture the whole structure of the galaxy.

How did the connection with Toronto first come about?

We met Jo Bovy, my counterpart in Toronto, at a conference about the Milky Way about eight years or so ago, when he was still a PhD student. I knew him because he was making quite advanced statistical models to understand the Milky Way. I knew he was a rising star in our field, but it was two years ago when I was at one of the institutes in New York and he was doing a sabbatical there that we were able to spend a week in the same location and really discuss this modelling technique, ‘Made-to-measure.’

We talked about advancing this computer simulation model, which my PhD student Jason hunt and I had already made a prototype of. We had an intense discussion with Jo on how we could improve it and made a big road map for how we could do so. So that was the starting point, almost two years ago.

What was the outcome of your recent visit to Toronto?

We visited at the beginning of October, and had a series of meetings almost every day, which meant lots of discussion time. We came up with ideas for improving the Made-to-measure technique and other ideas about using Gaia Data to understand the structure of the galaxy. We also started working on some papers together.

Do you have advice for anyone who hasn’t collaborated on such a global scale before? How do you make an international partnership work?

Conferences are always a good starting point – with a couple of hundred people there, there are plenty of people to talk to. And tea time is a good time to start! The next step is, if you’ve met a scientist you want to work with, try and spend an extended period of time at the same location to talk about a specific topic.

What are next steps for the project with Toronto?

We’re going to try and apply this Made-to-measure model to the Gaia Data. Before this application we will try to understand it in a more local neighbourhood: we still don’t know much dark matter is around us, and using this technique we hope we can get more accurate measurements of the dark matter density in the solar neighbourhood.

When a volcano threatens: UCL pioneers new warnings of eruptions

By Guest Blogger19 September 2018

By Christopher Kilburn, Director, UCL Hazard Centre, UCL Earth Sciences

Earlier this month, Dr Christopher Kilburn , Dr Danielle Charlton and Lara Smale (UCL Earth Sciences) presented at the Cities on Volcanoes Conference (COV) in Naples, Italy. Here, Christopher blogs about the experience and UCL’s pioneering research into designing forecasts of volcanic eruptions and their impact. 

Understanding how volcanoes behave is just the first step in reducing their threat. The next is to understand the views of the people who have made a volcano their home. Tackling both together is the aim of the Cities on Volcanoes conferences – two-yearly events that are held near an active volcano. This September we gathered in the southern Italian city of Naples, which has survived more than 2,000 years sandwiched between Vesuvius and Campi Flegrei.

UCL was strongly represented by the Departments of Earth Sciences, Science and Technology Studies and Computer Science, where we presented on topics that included forecasting eruptions, designing interactive hazard maps and low-cost monitoring equipment, and using art and the theatre to improve warnings of volcanic activity.

UCL Hazard Centre

The common link is the UCL Hazard Centre (UHC), in Earth Sciences, which for twenty years has been opening new pathways in forecasting volcanic eruptions and communicating about their hazard.

The conference also provided a unique opportunity for early-career researchers to meet practitioners who have had to react to volcanic crises. Ask Dr Danielle Charlton from the UHC.

“A really important aspect of conferences like these is listening to the experiences of fellow scientists who have been directly involved in a volcanic emergency,” she says.

“We heard from the scientists and officials who responded to eruptions at Mount Agung, in Indonesia, Kilauea, in Hawaii, and Fuego, in Guatemala – all within the last twelve months. Learning from these experiences has shaped how I approach my own research, as well as bringing real examples to what we teach on our postgraduate hazard programmes in Earth Sciences.”

Importance of communication

PhD researcher, Lara Smale (UHC) agrees. “The conference was a wonderful opportunity to meet researchers working on volcanoes that embrace a wide range of social and environmental conditions. Common themes were the importance of communication between stakeholders before an eruption and ensuring that applied research meets the needs of end-users. In short, science is not done until it is communicated.”

We learned, too, that successful communication can take advantage of art as well as science.

This theme was promoted by Drs Carina Fearnley and Chiara Ambrosio (UCL Science and Technology Studies) who pointed out that artists “possess unique and novel ways to engage with highly complex concepts and ideas” and “are able to address deeply political and contingent issues that scientists may either overlook or be unable to incorporate.”

Historical links 

The return to Naples was poignant. UCL has had links with Neapolitan volcanoes for more than 100 years. In 1891, Henry Johnston-Lavis (UCL Medicine) produced the first geological map of Vesuvius (copies of which are held in Earth Sciences, as well as at the Vesuvius Observatory, the oldest volcano observatory in the world).

In 1984, Prof. John Guest (UCL Physics & Astronomy and Earth Sciences) advised the UK Ministry of Defence on responding to a volcanic crisis in Campi Flegrei (which in the end did not erupt); and today the UCL Hazard Centre and Royal Academy of Dramatic Art are leading interdisciplinary studies on volcanic warnings at Campi Flegrei, in collaboration with local cultural associations, the University of Naples and the Vesuvius Observatory.

It is a proud tradition and a firm foundation for the next 100 years of success.

Spotlight on the RELIEF Centre

By Guest Blogger6 September 2018

Part of the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity, the RELIEF Centre is a hub for research and learning focused on inclusive growth and prosperity. It is about the prosperity of Lebanon in particular, but it is also part of a larger agenda for developing sustainable ways to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. Here, the centre rounds up highlights from their activity over the last three months.

With articles published in The Guardian and on the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact blog, the publication of the centre’s first working paper, fieldwork trips and workshops between Lebanon and London, along with the first event organised by the RELIEF Cultural Committee, the last three months have been busy for the RELIEF Centre.

As the centre moves into its second year, the staff are spending more time in the field and devising new activities as part of the centre’s public engagement strategy. Staff continue to enjoy existing collaborations, and have also created many exciting new opportunities to share their work with others. Highlights from over summer 2018 include:

Researchers from the Future Education research theme met in August for the Educators for Change: Teacher professional development (TPD) in the context of mass displacement workshop at the UCL Institute of Education. This workshop is part of a series organised by the team based around teacher professional development in the context of mass displacement. It discussed the development of a curriculum for the Educators for Change Massive Online Open Course (MOOC). The team was joined by officials from the Ministry of Education in Lebanon, Lebanese academics and NGO educators.

Spotlight on student mobility at UCL

ucypsga23 July 2018

With Brexit negotiations ongoing, the future of Erasmus, the European Union’s student exchange programme, remains unclear in the UK – making the future of student mobility uncertain.

But as London’s Global University, UCL is committed to providing its students with a truly global experience. And while studying in the heart of London goes some way to providing this, every UCL undergraduate has the opportunity to gain international study experience, regardless of their degree programme.

UCL’s dedicated Study Abroad team exists to support and promote these opportunities for UCL students. Thanks to its work, today UCL has exchange agreements with over 250 institutions in 40 countries across five continents, including 48 of the world’s top 100 universities. But how many students travel abroad each year, and where are they heading?

Increase in outward mobility in 2017/18

Data shows that over the past year, UCL has significantly increased the number of international exchange opportunities it offers to students. In fact, the number of outwardly mobile undergraduates has increased by an estimated 35% since 2015/16.

In 2016/17, 1,164 undergraduate students (around 26% of the graduating cohort) experienced one week or more abroad, while 23.8% experienced four or more. As of July 2018, at least 1,292 students will take part in such programmes during 2017/18, with this figure expected to rise.

Student mobility graph UCL Top destinations

Taking a closer look at the data shows that the majority of UCL students are travelling to North America for exchange placements – 59% of the total, as demonstrated by the pie chart below.Pie chart of most popular exchange placement regions

Top destinations for these students are the University of California, the University of Toronto (U of T) and the University of British Colombia.

At 20% of the total, the second most popular region for UCL students taking up placements abroad is South East Asia and Australasia. Top choice institutions in this region are the University of Melbourne, followed by the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the University of Western Australia.

The next most popular regions for UCL students are East Asia, followed by Europe and Latin America. As the graph below demonstrates, these placements are at institutions in cities from Moscow to Hong Kong.

Short-term opportunities

For students who wish to study abroad but don’t have the opportunity to take part in an exchange programme as part of their course, there are also a number of short-term opportunities coordinated by UCL Study Abroad.

This August, for example, 46 UCL students are set to travel to Shanghai and Hangzhou as part of the Study China programme.

Inbound students

It’s also worth noting that each year, UCL in turn welcomes students for exchange placements from all over the world.

Echoing the pattern of UCL students travelling for placements abroad, the highest number of students coming to study at UCL in turn are from North America (59% of the total). These students hail from institutions including the University of California, U of T, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington.

Beyond North America, UCL’s next biggest intake of students is from the National University of Singapore. Also in the top ten are the University of Hong Kong, the University of Melbourne and McGill University in Montreal.

Life-changing opportunities 

Owain Evans is UCL’s Short Mobilities Co-ordinator. He said: “It is important for students to enhance their future employability in the ever-changing and increasingly competitive post-graduation environment. Research shows that students with international experiences achieve better degrees and secure better jobs, so we encourage as many students as possible to seek out these opportunities while studying at UCL.

“In addition to the positive effect on employability, there are a range of benefits available to students who spend time abroad, from improvements in language, communication, cultural awareness to the opportunity to build international networks. Put simply, international opportunities have the ability to change the lives of students who undertake them.

“The UCL Study Abroad team aims to inspire and support students who undertake international opportunities, and the increasing number of options we offer reflects the diversity and range of interests among the UCL student cohort.”

New book by UCL Qatar’s Dr Jane Humphris brings Sudan’s heritage to young audience

ucypsga23 July 2018

Dr Jane Humphris, Head of UCL Qatar Research in Sudan, has published a children’s book intended to raise awareness about archaeological work in Sudan among local children.

The book, ‘Sudan’s Ancient History: Hwida and Maawia Investigate Meroe’s Iron’, illustrates the groundbreaking archaeological work currently underway in the Royal City of Meroe, as part of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP), for a younger audience.

Funded by Qatar Museums, QSAP is an extensive, targeted initiative by to support the exploration and protection of Sudan’s culture and history.

Led by the states of Sudan and Qatar, this international project has over 40 missions engaged in the excavation and conservation of ancient sites in Sudan.

Distributed in Doha libraries

The new book follows two young children, Hwida and Maawia, as they discover how the ancient Sudanese produced iron, demonstrating the significant role this played in the history of the Kingdom of Kush.

Following its publication, copies of the book are to be placed in the Museum of Islamic Art library and the Qatar National Library for children and families from across Qatar to learn about this aspect of Sudan’s rich heritage.

As part of the ongoing community outreach programme in Sudan, hundreds of copies have been also handed out to children living around Meroe and placed in the libraries of local schools.

Inspiring the next generation

Speaking at a ceremony hosted by Qatar National Library, Jane said: “Here at UCL Qatar, we believe that the role of archaeologists is not just to discover the past through archaeological excavations, but also to make sure that the work we are doing is accessible.

“We hope that the book continues to be used as an educational tool – both in Sudan and Qatar – so that we can inspire the next generation to become more interested in preserving, protecting, and promoting cultural heritage.”

Ongoing archaeological work

For the last six years, UCL Qatar has been carrying out archaeological work at the ancient Royal City of Meroe, on the east bank of the river Nile.

UCL Qatar’s most recent work as part of QSAP includes the discovery of early iron production workshops, and extensive research and conservation at the Apedemak Temple, one of the most import religious locations at the Royal City.

Ask an academic: Dr Florian Mussgnug

ucypsga18 July 2018

Dr Florian Mussgnug Dr Florian Mussgnug is Reader in Italian and Comparative Literature at UCL and convenor of the BA Comparative Literature, which examines world literature from diverse geographical and cultural angles.

He has recently been appointed as an Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, a cross-UCL initiative that will support, fund and promote the work UCL academics carry out with partners in global cities. He spoke to us about his work with the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub and his hopes for the launch of the programme. 

Which events took place in Rome in 2017-18?

The Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub has facilitated 11 collaborative projects, which were convened by UCL lead applicants from six faculties. In total, this enabled the organization of five international conferences, three symposia, six graduate training workshops, two week-long international doctoral summer schools, a piano concert and a photography exhibition. All events took place in Rome over the course of three months, between April and June 2018. More than 100 academic speakers were invited, including 37 UCL members of staff.

How did the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub come about?

The idea was born during a period of great apprehension, following the British EU referendum. The spectre of Brexit marked a threat to the future of UK universities, as the Provost of UCL and other university leaders were quick to point out. British universities have benefitted enormously from EU funding and from the free movement of researchers and students, and there was justified concern that prolonged political uncertainty and the noxious rhetoric of the leave campaign would put off researchers in other European countries.

A strong, positive signal was needed, especially for subjects like Modern Languages, European Studies and Comparative Literature, which rely strongly on free movement and the Erasmus student exchange programme.

What makes Rome such a fruitful location for academic collaboration?

Rome was a good place to start. The city can boost a sustained record of research collaborations with UCL, across numerous disciplines: archaeology, architecture, art history, ancient history and classical studies, the fine arts, museum studies, electronic engineering, history, modern languages, neuroscience, philosophy, political science and translation studies.

My vision has focused on strategic collaboration with high-ranking research universities and other prestigious regional partners, including Sapienza University, Roma Tre University, LUISS Guido Carli University and the British School at Rome (BSR). I have pursued this idea since 2016, thanks to three rounds of Global Engagement Funds, the Rome Regional Partnership Funds, and strategic and financial support from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities

You’ve recently been appointed as an Academic Director for UCL’s Cities partnerships Programme. What are you most looking forward to about the project?

The political crisis in the Mediterranean has moved Italy to the forefront of international attention, making it a vital context for important debates about the identity and future of Europe. More than 50 years after the Treaty of Rome, the Italian capital remains a powerful symbol of European unity.

But Rome has also come to be associated with new risks and challenges: the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, the need to re-think national sovereignty in an age of planetary connectedness; the political causes and consequences of involuntary migration or forced immobility. What draws me to Rome, above and beyond the city’s unrivalled wealth of historical sites and cultural artefacts, is the wish to respond actively and fully to these challenges, in line with UCL’s distinctive ethos of cosmopolitanism, radicalism and innovative thinking.

What are you hoping to achieve through the Cities partnerships Programme?

Educated in Britain, Italy and Germany, I am proud of UCL’s reputation as a global academic leader in continental Europe, and applaud our commitment to international excellence. As Academic Director of the Cities partnerships Programme, I will seek to consolidate UCL’s important role through new initiatives and by strengthening the strategic partnerships that have already emerged.

I also wish to map and promote relevant expertise across UCL. The “UCL in Rome” working party, founded in 2016, already comprises over 50 UCL researchers with a specific interest in Italy, based in eight faculties and 19 departments.

How does this approach differ from UCL’s previous international engagement in Rome?

Members of the working party have advanced exciting proposals for joint degrees, pre-university orientation weeks, research fellowships, internships and fixed-term double appointments. I look forward to testing these ideas in the context of the Cities partnerships Programme. Regional engagement funding will continue, and some high-profile initiatives are already planned for 2018-19.

In September, a ceremony at the British School at Rome (BSR) will honour the Italian filmmaker and Slade alumna Lorenza Mazzetti, who will be awarded a UCL Honorary Fellowship. In January, the Provost will visit Sapienza University to address the assembly that opens the academic year in Italy. I also look forward to working closely with Dr Claire Colomb, who will lead activities in Paris. We both welcome this important opportunity to shape debates about the future of higher education in Europe, and to strengthen internationally collaborative research and research-based learning.

Ask GEO: Professor Gudrun Moore

ucypsga22 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.

What does gender equality have to do with global engagement?

ucypsga11 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 

ucypsga23 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.”