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UCL alumni interview: Himani Gupta, artist

Sian EGardiner1 August 2019

Himani Gupta, UCL alumnusHimani Gupta studied international real estate and urban planning at The Bartlett from 2011-2012. Having worked as a spatial designer and a consultant for Ernst & Young in Delhi, Himani is now working full time as an artist, specialising in painting.

We spoke to her to find out more about her experience at UCL and how she stays in touch with the UCL community.

How did you come to study at UCL?

Firstly, because I love the campus and I’d been following it for a while. Secondly, I found the work that’s been done at the Bartlett very relevant to the direction I wanted to go in professionally. Before doing my masters I used to be a spatial designer, but I wanted to get onto the other side which was understanding the business of cities and how infrastructure and real estate are developed around them.

How did you find studying at UCL?

It was a really enriching experience because I got to learn about the politics of space in Europe and the real estate markets in China and the Middle East. The freedom we had in terms of things like choosing our dissertation was great. I could also make it more India-centric, which helped me immensely after UCL in terms of getting a job in Management Consulting in the Urban field in India, as I’d written on similar topics for my masters.

Compared to my undergrad degree in Business Studies in India, UCL was more analysis-based. It took some time but once I got used to the structure of the course it opened up a new way of looking at things, which helped me in my job in the real world and still helps me now.

What was it like living in London?

I’ve always loved London so the city was very familiar to me. I lived in Bayswater in West London so I’d cycle or walk down to the campus. We organised Thursday drinks at the UCL bar, which became a hub for us each week. I found the balance between a lot of study and a lot of socialising quite enriching.

It’s all so centrally located and I liked that we had classes in different locations across the campus; I explored all sorts of hidden buildings. Now I’m an artist and my work is about psycho-geography and understanding layers of space, and the fact that I walked quite a bit while studying in London has shaped my approach to my work.

What would your advice be for a student in India looking to study at UCL?

Figure out funding very early on and give yourself a strict budget. Once you have that figured out life at UCL and in London is very easy.  At UCL, you have an account to access a student/teaching portal where all the modules and submissions are in one place. It’s really cool because one can study anywhere. UCL has a lot of libraries and quiet corners to study, which was one of my favourite parts. I’d say try and explore as many nooks and corners as possible around the campus.

What aspects of the culture did you enjoy?

The fact that you get to hear a different language every square foot or two. Because I’m a walker I take in and absorb London as I walk through it, and as you do you get an insight into how many cultures and backgrounds exist together in this city.

The art scene and the number of galleries in London is phenomenal and the shops that offer material really works for me. Also, the food! Which is a direct function of the number of cultures that exist here.

Even after graduation, I make it a point to visit UCL on my trips to London to catch up with old and new connections.

How have you kept in touch with the UCL community?

I moved back to India in 2013 but I recently wrote to another good friend of mine from my course who’s very active in New York with the UCL alumni group there. He put me in touch with UCL’s alumni team, and through them I got involved with volunteering in Delhi. I organised a reunion event in Delhi a few months ago – about 26 of us came together for a casual mixer event at the art-themed homestay I run.

I was curious to bring together people from different professions and initiatives not just for myself but for everyone present. It’s also a great way to form new social groups. I now look forward to more events and more people volunteering in Delhi. I’m happy to open up my studio (which can accommodate up to 35 people) to those interested in having an Arts and Culture themed reunion mixer.Himani Gupta art

Tell us about your work.

I’ve got my hands in a lot of pies! I used to work in spatial design before doing my masters then I came back to India and I started working as a consultant with Ernst and Young. So I used to be in management consulting in the infrastructure and smart cities team.

I’ve also been a painter for the last fifteen years and after deciding to leave consulting I wanted to focus on it full time. My visual arts practice is drawn from my very diverse experiences in education, professions and travels. Urban and spatial exploration has been a research interest of mine for a long time and what I try and study through my art is the idea of psychogeography and understanding the materiality of space. My medium in art is painting primarily and I create large pieces of work. I work with pigments and paint. Lately, I have been creating a lot of smaller works based on mapping.

What are you working on with the Slade?

Through my work as a UCL volunteer, I was introduced to Deborah Padfield, an artist and professor at the Slade who is exploring how chronic pain is communicated through the arts in a project called Visualising Pain.

She wanted to work with a local artist and although pain is not my direct subject, the fact I could use paint and pigment in order to help chronic pain sufferers communicate their pain better motivated me to get involved. I ended up co-facilitating a workshop with Deborah (and others) in Delhi in May 2019. It went really well and made an impact on our participants who battle chronic pain everyday.

How has UCL helped you to achieve your ambitions?

It’s interesting because before coming to UCL I wasn’t particularly motivated to do ‘well’ in the conventional sense – whether that’s an educational qualification or a job – my pace was a lot slower. Which is not necessarily a bad thing but in my case I wasn’t achieving too much or doing too much with my time.

I think UCL and my experience of living in London really inspired me and opened up a channel which I never knew existed in me, which is that of wanting to achieve and working hard. I got into the habit of maintaining a diary, organising myself better, understanding before speaking or describing. I started being meticulous about my work and had I not gone through this change I would still be very bohemian and less results orientated.

UCL would love to hear from more alumni in India and around the world.  

Get in touch and find out more about volunteering at ucl.ac.uk/alumni

Ask an Academic: Professor David Osrin

GuestBlogger24 July 2019

By Ian Morton

Professor David Osrin is Professor of Global Health at UCL and a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow in Clinical Science. Based in Mumbai since 2004, he works in an urban health research collaboration with SNEHA (the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action).

Researching within the broad remit of urban health, he is particularly interested in complex social interventions and research ethics, and art and science’s utility in raising public awareness of health. We spoke to David to find out more about his life and work in India…

Can you give us a brief overview of your research in India?

My research has come a long way since I first began working in India in 2004. I started out looking at ways to improve the health of newborn babies in the Mumbai region, working with an excellent organisation called SNEHA. More recently though I’ve been working with organisations like SNEHA to tackle violence against women – an increasingly important issue in India.

I also work closely with the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai, the Family Planning Centre of India, and other health professionals in the area.

What got you interested in the subject in the first place?

When I first began working here, I noticed how committed and passionate everyone was about improving public health in India. It was this passion which inspired me to pursue my research to the extent that I have.

While public health has been an issue for a long time, it’s only in the last decade that violence against women has been a mainstream topic in India. Thanks to a number of landmark legal cases the Government has begun to take the issue much more seriously, and I’m so pleased our research techniques are being used to make a difference.

What difference do you hope it will make?

My vision is to contribute to a social transformation that is taking place throughout the world with respect to equality. In the case of India, my hope is that it will continue to lead to a reduction in violence against women. One of the things that stands out for me is that when we bring the local community together, anything is possible!

Can you tell us about the Institute’s relationship with India?

The Institute of Urban Health is not the only part of UCL working in India of course, and there are other colleagues at the Institute doing great work here too. Together with our partners, we’ve succeeded in engaging state level government in India to bring about some significant policy changes. As well as the work I’ve been doing there, Dr Audrey Prost has also achieved some great results with another Indian NGO called Ekjut – on improving the health and nutrition of new born children and adolescents.

What can UCL learn from your time working in India? What can the UK learn?

Aside from collaborating with people with a different background and outlook to my own, I’ve seen the power when communities come together to tackle societal challenges like public health. Legal intervention, emotional support and shelter are needs that we all share, so what we learn in India can be applied to the UK and vice versa.

What are some of your highlights from living in India?

Having being involved in some hugely important and large-scale research projects, in true collaboration with equal partners, to deliver world-class research.

I’m proud of the fact that during my time here we’ve seen the transformation of countless individuals. I’m also really proud of the public engagement work we’ve done, bringing together the disciplines of health, art and science, which led to a hugely successful festival called Dharavi (or Alley Galli) Biennale.

What has it been like working in the Indian slums?

I am very privileged to spend my working days in an informal settlement but not to live there. Not everyone has that privilege. The impact on me has been profound, and the importance I place on certain things is very different now to when I was living in the West.

The challenges associated with finding clean water, a shelter to withstand the elements, and the need for electricity have all given me a greater appreciation of the basic health and wellbeing needs we all share.

What would you like to say to other academics at UCL thinking of collaborating with others in India?

I think they should absolutely collaborate here if they can. In my view, the academic and research capability of teachers in India is on a par with the UK. Also, I’ve never experienced being hampered by the government structures in place in India. In fact, quite the opposite.

The number of people who are willing to participate in the research has also been incredibly valuable for my research. There’s a lot of enthusiasm in India among the public for taking part in research – perhaps more so than the UK.

It goes without saying that the intercultural interaction which informs my research has also enhanced my experience here.

Ask an academic: Dr Jennie Golding

Sian EGardiner28 January 2019

Dr Jennie Golding is a lecturer in Mathematics Education at the UCL Institute of Education (IOE). Her research focuses in particular on teacher development for policy change in both the UK and a variety of second and third world contexts.

Jennie regularly works with teachers, policy makers and teacher educators in developing countries to support the growth of evidence-based, effective maths education. We spoke to her to find out more about her recent work in East Africa, supported by a UCL Global Engagement Fund (GEF) grant.

You started out as a mathematician and moved into teaching – what interested you in education?

I had enjoyed working with three-18 year olds on a voluntary basis – and I think enjoying being with young people is really important. Then I began to analyse the different functions my teachers at school and university had played, and to appreciate the difference a good teacher makes to clarity and enjoyment of the subject I love.

The rest is history – except that after a long career classroom-based, but working in teacher development alongside that, in this country and the developing world, I felt I wanted to capitalise on that by moving into HE.

You were among recent recipients of UCL’s Global Engagement Funds (GEF). What led you to apply for the funds?

I have a passionate belief in the power of education to transform individuals and society – and in equitable access to that. In particular, young people can’t access 21st century science and technology without knowing mathematics in a meaningful way – and yet, many developing countries have an education tradition that majors on rote learning, and teacher as authoritarian and source of all knowledge.

The initial GEF funding enabled me to engage with, and visit, a range of teachers in Tanzania so I better understood their context – but more importantly in the long term, to meet and begin to work with teacher educators and mathematics education researchers in the region.

In August 2018 I was able to build on that visit by working with researchers from across East Africa, who identified the development of teacher educators in the region, together with the policy-related local research capacity, as the most effort-effective focus.

You were recently in Uganda, following up on the project. How did the visit go?

I was running a course for primary mathematics teacher educators from across East Africa, alongside teachers from each of Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda, focusing on developing active learning with meaning-making – in ways that can be enacted in low-resource classrooms with sometimes up to 180 learners.

That took quite a lot of preparation and background work, and needs to be refined further, but was exciting, stimulating – and as always, humbling. And Uganda is such a beautiful country!

How will you measure the project’s success?

We know from a multiplicity of sources that it’s important for embedding of course learning that teacher educators and teachers take this back to their local contexts, explore, adapt and experiment with it in manageable ways; are supported to reflect on what they’re finding at frequent intervals; and gradually commit to new ways of working in collaborative ways. So all the course participants now have three months’ supported distance learning, during which they have three assignments.

Already participants are talking of the course as ‘life-changing’ for both them and their learners, but of course, the proof of any success will lie on the ground in their home contexts. Importantly, I’m also following up these teacher educators’ experiences in a systematic way together with a Ugandan mathematics education researcher, to mutual benefit since I have more research expertise than she does, but she can access participants’ experiences through use of their home language.

Along with Tanzania and Uganda, you’ve worked in countries including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Armenia and Jordan. Why do you think it’s important to work on a global scale?

Essentially, I do believe we are global citizens − and in this country, we’re exceptionally privileged in the opportunities we’ve had available to us, especially in education. So I think there’s a moral imperative to share the fruit of those opportunities. But I also believe there is always so much to be learned from working in different contexts and cultures, so that although I’ve been lucky enough to have a variety of overseas opportunities, I’ve always returned having learned at least as much as I’ve given.

Professionally, working in low-resource contexts has helped me focus on what are the essentials, the core of my work as a teacher and mathematician, and that’s been really exciting.

What’s your best memory from these global experiences?

Where to start? I think the core satisfaction has been when the mathematics has begun to make sense to teachers and teacher educators in ways they’ve not expected or experienced before.

One teacher educator in Uganda said at the end of the face to face course, ‘I had no idea there was a mathematical world out there that’s just so beautiful – and such fun’ – and if teacher educators have ‘caught’ that, there’s hope then for it to spread to young people in classrooms. That’s immensely satisfying.

Researchers: How to use your global networks to benefit students

GuestBlogger25 January 2019

By Victoria Shaw, Strategic Programme Manager, UCL Global Engagement Office 

UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy sets out the goal for 30% of our undergraduate student body to have an international experience as part of their degree programme by 2020. This reflects a growing body of evidence that study and work abroad leads to better degrees and better jobs.

UCL is home to one of the UK’s most international academic communities and researchers travel all over the world to build networks and partnerships. So how can globally engaged academics use their connections to further inbound and outbound student mobility?

Short-term global opportunities

Demand for short-term global opportunities is accelerating among undergraduates worldwide and UCL students are no exception.

In 2017/18, UCL Study Abroad supported 306 students for short-term mobilities, a 115% increase on the previous year. Students took up a variety of opportunities, ranging from research on howler monkeys in Mexico to the study of Chinese language and culture in Shanghai.

“Given the interest in and clear appetite for short-term opportunities, we are working to expand this exciting area,” says Owain Evans, Short Mobilities Coordinator.

“If academic colleagues learn of interesting international summer schools, research or volunteering opportunities while visiting partner institutions or through conversations with collaborators, please get in touch – we’d love to hear more and explore new options for UCL students.”

Current summer schools, research placements and other openings can be viewed on the Short-Term Global Opportunities web page, along with information on UCL’s Global Experience Bursary, which provides financial support for students.

UCL Summer School

UCL’s own Summer School has grown rapidly since its launch in 2016 and receives outstanding feedback on the experience it provides for students.

Last year, students attended from over 240 universities, attracted to the small group teaching and wide choice of modules. Students can apply individually or under an institutional agreement, and many use it as a stepping stone to postgraduate study.

“Academic staff have great connections and play an important part in promoting the Summer School internationally,” says Rhod Fiorini, Head of Programme.

The Summer School team can provide publicity materials for UCL staff wishing to promote the programme and explore group discounts for partners.

Global internships

Scholars with links to companies and NGOs abroad should be aware that UCL Careers is seeking international internships for UCL students.

“Organisations around the world are increasingly seeking graduates who are adaptable, curious and resilient,” says Rhiannon Williams, Global Internships Manager.

“An internship abroad helps students develop these skills whilst kick-starting their global careers. It also allows employers to create a pipeline of globally-minded talent for their business, particularly valuable if they are looking to expand into new markets.”

Last year, 76 students visited over 25 different countries as part of the Global Internships Programme.

If academic staff make a referral, UCL Careers will work with the organisation to identify internships, advertise them to students and shortlist applicants.

UCL has secured Erasmus+ funding, managed jointly by Careers and Study Abroad, for students undertaking positions within the EU, making this a particularly desirable destination for new internships.

Contacts

For more information or to discuss proposals:

  • Short-term Global Opportunities: Owain Evans, Short Mobilities Coordinator (o.evans@ucl.ac.uk)
  • UCL Summer School: Rhod Fiorini, Head of the UCL Summer School (r.fiorini@ucl.ac.uk)
  • Global Internships: Rhiannon Williams, Global Internships Manager (rhiannon.e.williams@ucl.ac.uk)

Alumni interview: Stella Lu, co-founder of the Shanghai Alumni Club

Sian EGardiner14 November 2018

Stella Lu is one of the co-founders of the Shanghai Alumni Club. We spoke to her to find out about her experiences as an international UCL student and her activity as an alumni volunteer.

How did you find studying at UCL, in the centre of London?  

The first thing I’d highlight is the culture: UCL is right in the centre of London, near to the British Museum, so we could walk there right after work. You really feel the combination of the traditional and the modern in London. It’s a great lifestyle: the student halls are located in the centre too, so it’s really convenient for people to travel around the city – and to get to the best shopping areas!  

Stella and Sky, UCL alumni

How has your time at UCL helped you to achieve your ambitions?  

I studied Law, specifically international arbitration, which is quite a new and emerging area. The UK is actually the starting place for arbitration, so studying at the UCL law school really equipped me with the skills and knowledge to help my clients.   

Since graduating in 2011, how have you stayed in touch with the UCL community? 

After graduation I went back to China with my husband – who I met at UCL – and we found there was no UCL alumni association here in Shanghai. As we’d loved our time there, and wanted to communicate with other UCL alumni, I started the Shanghai Alumni Club together with some friends.  

Since then, we’ve organised various events to help people to get to know each other. All of the events have one common theme: that we all graduated from UCL and we’re all really proud of that.  

How often do you meet up? 

It depends: we have at least ten events throughout the year. The biggest event is the annual party, where the Provost comes to celebrate with alumni in Shanghai. We also organise academic events and we’ve had forums on subjects such as architecture, finance and real estate. Last week, we held a UCL Connect event about entrepreneurship.  

We also have inter-uni mixers, with other UK schools, where people can relax and get to know one another, along with cultural events. We organise trips to movies or operas – last week, we organised for alumni to see the musical Kinky Boots together. There are also smaller group events, like paintball or picnics, together with other schools. It’s quite a range: from big ceremonies to small events.  

What motivates you to volunteer?  

It gives me a real sense of achievement. We have a committee here at Shanghai, with nine members, and we really feel like we’re family. Whenever we see that an event has been a big success, we feel a huge sense of accomplisment. We also strive to strengthen the relationship between China and the UK; we have good relationships with organisations such as the British Consulate and British Council here, and our work supports theirs.  

What advice would you have for Chinese students looking to study in the UK? 

I’d strongly recommend choosing UCL because of its location, right in the centre of one of the best cities in the world. Also because of its impressive academic achievements – if you study at UCL, you’re sure to have your own. As a student, I always felt UK people were very friendly to us, and UCL is very open to international students.  

  • This interview originally featured in the UCL and China resource: an in-depth look at UCL’s current and historical connections with China.

Ask an academic: Dr Florian Mussgnug

Sian EGardiner18 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.

UK government announces major new funding to attract world’s best in science and innovation

Sian EGardiner5 July 2018

Business Secretary Greg Clark has announced a major new investment in UK talent and skills to grow and attract the best in science and innovation from across the world.

The inaugural UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme is set to receive £900 million over the next 11 years, with six funding competitions and at least 550 fellowships awarded over the next three years.

UCL researchers are frequently among those to receive government backing. Recent examples include the Department of Physics & Astronomy’s Krishna Manojkumar Jadeja, who has received funding for his project on ‘coherent gamma rays,’ along with a team at the Department of Medical Physics & Biomedical Engineering led by Professor Gary Royle, whose proton therapy proposal has received backing from the National Institute for Health Research.

Flexibility for researchers

Delivering the keynote speech at the International Business Festival in Liverpool last month, Clark outlined £1.3 billion worth of investment for British universities and businesses.

The money is intended to develop the next generation of entrepreneurs, innovators and scientific leaders and secure Britain’s future economic prosperity, and is the single biggest investment in science in 40 years. He said: “The money will help ensure the UK invests 2.4% of GDP in R&D by 2027 and help us become the world’s most innovative economy by 2030.”

Clark explained that the investment will provide up to seven years of funding for early-career researchers and innovators, including support for part-time awards and career breaks, in a bid to provide researchers with the flexibility needed to tackle ambitious and challenging research areas.

Key international collaboration

Commenting on the announcement, Clark added: “We are a nation of innovators, with some of the world’s greatest inventions created on British soil – from penicillin to the first computer programme. We want to retain our global reputation as a destination for world-class scientists and researchers, by providing opportunities to find and nurture the next Ada Lovelaces and Isaac Newtons.

“International collaboration has been key to many of the most significant discoveries and breakthroughs and I want the UK to remain the go-to destination for the best scientists and innovators. We are investing in the rising stars of research and innovation to ensure the UK is where the products and technologies of tomorrow are developed.”

The scheme is open to businesses as well as universities, and is also open to researchers from around the world, in a bid to ensure the UK continues to attract exceptional talent from around the world.

Supporting the Grand Challenges

Clark also announced that complementing the Future Leaders Fellowship Scheme, the Royal Society, Royal Academy of Engineering, British Academy, and Academy of Medical Sciences will collectively receive £350 million for the prestigious fellowships schemes. This funding will enhance the research talent pipeline and increase the number of fellowships on offer for high skilled researchers and innovators.

For the next five years, £50 million has been allocated through the National Productivity Investment Fund for additional PhDs, including 100 PhDs to support research into AI, supporting one of the Grand Challenges within the Industrial Strategy and ensuring Britain is at the forefront of the AI revolution.

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

GuestBlogger23 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.

By 2030, will universities ‘walk fast and alone – or walk far and together’?

Nicola MBrewer23 February 2018

Nicola Brewer, UCL’s Vice-Provost International, provided this guest blog for Wonkhe’s HE Futures series. It was originally published here.

People walking. Image: Magdalena Roeseler / Flickr

People walking. Image: Magdalena Roeseler / Flickr

If Nelson Mandela was right – and I firmly believe he was – education is “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. So, what should higher education leaders do for the best when both the public benefit of universities and the benefits of globalisation are disputed?

First off, we need to continue to create and share knowledge, which is fundamentally what universities do. Taking that knowledge and putting it to work in the world, in a way that addresses pressing local, national or global problems, is how universities bring benefit to society. Increasingly, those problems are global, and intensely complex. No single country, institution – no matter how prestigious – or discipline, can tackle these challenges alone.

To deal with issues such as climate change; food, water and energy security; sustainable cities, we need diversity and excellence. Some people see a tension between the two. I don’t. Instead I see a risk in defining excellence too narrowly, only recognising it in people or careers that look like yours or those you already know and respect. Bringing together diverse perspectives, through combining different disciplines and experiences, accelerates the process of discovery. And bringing together experts, irrespective of where they are in the world, means that the very best minds can be focussed on finding the solutions we all need.

Global issues, global solutions

Where will we find those people? The UN estimates that there will be a small decline in the population of Europe between 2015 and 2030 (738m to 734m). Over the same period, the population of Asia will increase by 12% (4.4bn to 4.9bn) and the population of Africa by 42% (1.19bn to 1.68bn). Alongside those big demographic changes, you need to consider other trends, like the ‘massification’ of higher education: UCL’s Centre for Global Higher Education calculates that, in Europe, participation in tertiary education (mostly degree programmes) rose from 50% in 2000 to 75% in 2014. If you believe that talent is evenly distributed across populations, you’ll be missing out on huge potential pools of talent if you don’t look far and wide for it.

In a world where inter-connectedness is no longer a given and global citizenship no longer automatically seen as a positive, universities should seek out ways to make and strengthen alliances, supporting collaboration between individual academics and faculties as well as at institutional level. At UCL, we do this through what we call ‘global partnerships of equivalence’, which are at the heart of our Global Engagement Strategy.

What we mean by a partnership of equivalence is an alliance based on mutual trust and respect, from which both sides derive value. It’s reciprocal, but not in a quid pro quo kind of way. UCL has produced 29 Nobel prize-winners. We are immensely proud of all of them. But we also recognise that we can still learn as much as we can teach. We know we have to understand what it’s like to walk in other people’s shoes, to learn from the paths they’ve travelled and where they’re heading to.

It’s relatively easy to announce the beginning of a partnership. True partnerships of equivalence are hard to create. I know this from my time leading global engagement at UCL, and a long career as a diplomat. They’re hard, partly for the same reasons all meaningful relationships are hard: you have to find the right one (or ones) for you; you have to work at them; and they take a lot of time as well as intellectual and emotional effort to maintain, not least because they involve confronting history not written by the so-called winners.

Supporting everyone

This idea of mutual benefit and universities as global team players is something that Adam Habib, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, articulates really clearly. He says that universities should act “in a way that supports the global academy of commons rather than simply advancing the individual aspirations of institutions”. The creation and sharing of knowledge is quintessentially international. That makes it, or should make it, a shared mission. So, we should enter into partnership with a generous spirit as well as open minds. That is what gives us the best chance of creating equal partnerships in what is still a very unequal world.

At UCL, we sum up our desire to do this in one of five drivers for our global engagement: ‘Increasing global independent research capability’. We deliberately avoid the (usually unintentionally) patronising term ‘capacity building’. I have yet to meet anyone who asks to have their capacity built. Generosity of spirit requires more than a dash of humility: you never know what you can learn if you’re open to it. And if you aren’t, the chances are that your supposed partner won’t be in the right frame of mind either. One tip, which I learned as a diplomat, is to start a conversation from where the other person is, not where you want it to go. That way, you’re more likely to make a genuine connection. Luckily, academics are fantastic at that. UCL academics, I quickly learned, are the best guides to fellow experts and enthusiasts in their field, of whatever nationality, gender, background or discipline.

The emphasis on excellence and diversity is critical. I haven’t done a literature review of research into the so-called ‘wisdom of crowds’, though I am intrigued by the work of Daniel C Richardson’s Eye Think Lab at UCL and the phenomenon of social media bubbles that reinforce bias rather than create wisdom. But this is where there is an important place for experts and scholarship, to focus on an issue, explore it carefully from as many perspectives as possible and present peer-reviewed results. As Michael Grubb wrote, “science is slow”. So is the creation of a real partnership. At UCL, our aim is to develop international partnerships that last at least 10 years, and deliver global impact over that timescale. Not a headline for tomorrow’s fish and chip wrapper.

Real partnership

What our Global Engagement Strategy aims to do is to make sure we first look as far and wide as possible for partners, starting from our existing collaborations with individual academics world-wide, and then focus our cross-institutional support on a set of strategic partnerships to have maximum impact.

One of the ways we’re searching widely is through financial and practical support for the Council for At Risk Academics (cara). Cara works to enable at risk academics, many of whom are desperate and in immediate danger, to continue their work as researchers and educators. You only have to hear the story of one of our cara Masters scholars, whom we were able to bring to UCL from Syria with a fee waiver and full scholarship, to understand the impact of their work. He was studying in Syria when, all of a sudden, he was thrown off his course and fired from his job. He was imprisoned and tortured. It took his father six months to get him released. He describes the opportunity to come to UCL as “life-saving in the literal sense”.

Universities have a vital role to play in maintaining global inter-connectedness and belief in its value. The best way to play that role is to create and share knowledge through international partnerships. And the best way to create lasting global partnerships is to make sure they are based on mutual trust and respect. Easy to say, harder to do.

More universities are starting to follow this path. As UCL was developing its Global Engagement Strategy in 2014, we reviewed the international strategies of 55 universities. One of the top three common factors was solving global problems through research partnerships. And there is growing use of the term ‘global engagement’ rather than ‘internationalisation’ (with its implied narrow focus on recruitment of international staff and students). I predict that by 2030, it will be more common for research intensive universities to profile their strategic global partnerships than their overseas campuses. The proof of the partnership concept will be to demonstrate, not the number of them, but their positive global impact. After careful consultation, UCL is placing its global bet on partnership as a path to global impact.

As the African proverb goes, ‘if you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together’.

Ask GEO: Lizzy Deacon, Senior Partnership Manager (East Asia)

Sian EGardiner10 January 2018


Could you give a brief overview of your role and the activity in your region?

I’m the Senior Partnership Manager for East Asia and I’ve been in the role for nearly six months.

I’m responsible for implementing UCL’s Global Engagement Strategy in the region, which involves facilitating our partnerships of equivalence, principally with Peking University (PKU). We have several other important partnerships in East Asia, including with Osaka University in Japan.

Part of my role involves nurturing these partnerships, which includes organising bilateral delegation visits and monitoring the agreements made in our MOUs [memorandums of understanding]. So far I’ve already been on two delegation visits led by the Provost – one to Japan and one to China – and I got married in between the two, so it’s been rather a baptism of fire!

What led you to the role?

I studied Chinese with International Relations at Durham and SOAS, and was always keen to work in an environment that made use of my knowledge of the country and the language. I lived in China for a year as part of my degree before working at Oxford University in international programmes/partnerships for eight years, followed by Queen Mary University, where I managed a large joint programme with a university in China. When I saw this job come up I was really excited because it gave me the opportunity to move into a more strategic role.

You went on the Provost’s trip to China late last year. How did it go?

It was hugely successful. The focus of the visit was a trip to PKU. We visited three of the key schools at PKU with whom we have strong collaborations (the School for Chinese as a Second Language, the National School of Development and the Yenching Academy). We also had a Presidential-level meeting at which we signed a memo which details the main strands of our collaboration with PKU, and signed the agreement for a new dual MA programme in Health and Humanity.

We also visited Hanban, where the Provost gave a very well-received speech about the UCL IoE Confucius Institute, and we met with the head of the British Council in China and the British Ambassador. In addition, the Provost presided over UCL’s first ever graduation celebration for Chinese graduands and their families in China.

What was your personal highlight of the trip?

Probably building a relationship with my counterpart at PKU: I think it will really help the relationship to flourish. Also, attending (and salsa dancing at) the Beijing Alumni Ball, together with the whole team, including the Provost.

How can academics find out more about UCL activity in the region?

We have some region-specific funding schemes, both with the university of Hong Kong (the strategic partnership fund around Grand Challenges themes, led by OVPR) and we also have a PKU strategic partner seed funding scheme, which is about to reopen. You can find all of the information about this on the GEO web pages.

I’m also really keen to get out there and meet academics who have significant collaborations in the region. If they need information about a specific partner university or want to know whether or not there’s an existing collaboration with a university in their region, please get in touch with me! All UCL staff who are interested in the East Asia Region are also welcome to join the regional network.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

One of my priorities for 2018 is following up on the momentum generated by our successful Japan visit. It’s really exciting that our partnerships there are moving forward at such a pace and I’m looking forward to working with our partners to further deepen our collaborations.