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Vice-Provost views



Your chance to shape our research environment

By uccg04p, on 6 March 2018

UCL’s researchers are world class, and we need to ensure that they receive world-class support. Since 2011, UCL has had a research strategy that was designed to help the institution develop in such a way as to optimally support our research community, and to help us all to be more than the sum of our parts.

The 2011 strategy (which you can read here) has now been reviewed and refreshed – so I need to draw on your experience, expertise and imagination over the next month to ensure that the draft 2018 UCL Research Strategy gives you the tools and environment to help you fulfil your potential.

We have been seeking the views of UCL colleagues on the draft strategy, draft framework for delivery and proposed short-term priorities since December 2017. I encourage everyone to read these documents and provide their comments by 11 April. You’ll find them, and a link to a survey, here.

While providing feedback on institutional strategies may not be everyone’s idea of fun, we really do want to know what you think. Your experience and insight are essential to enable the redesign of a framework that supports researchers to do more of what they do best, and tackles the barriers that stand in the way of excellent research.

Not convinced? Perhaps some FAQs will stir your interest…

What’s the point of having a research strategy?

Our strategy provides a vision for the nature of UCL’s broad research agenda over the next ten years. It defines institutional aims, objectives and cross-cutting themes through which we can sustain and add value to our existing and growing academic excellence. It lays the groundwork through which UCL can help our researchers, individually and collectively, fulfil their potential and achieve an even greater impact through their brilliance.

What it does not do is set out a list of research subjects and questions for the next decade; rather, it is grounded in the belief that UCL – and its research – is at its best when our research leaders determine their own interests and agenda. It will not tell you what research to conduct, but it does seek to help put in place the support and culture that will help you to pursue your chosen course.

What’s the gist of this strategy?

I hope you share my belief that UCL is a unique place. Its founders committed us to innovation, accessibility and relevance. Each generation has re-interpreted this radical tradition in response to its contemporary circumstances and the needs of society.

This draft strategy is our attempt to do so for our own changing world. We think that UCL is among a handful of universities with a sufficient breadth and depth of research – coupled with a commitment to cross-disciplinarity – necessary to help humanity to address the problems that threaten its survival. This is an urgent task, requiring unprecedented collective action and partnership, but it is not the limit of our aspirations. Here at UCL we like to aim high: we want to help humanity not only to survive but to thrive, so that future generations can live prosperous, secure, engaged, empowered, fair, healthy, stimulating and fulfilling lives.
Your work at UCL can help us toward that aim.

I believe that we can best develop this role over the next ten years by fulfilling the three aims of this draft strategy:

  1. Inspiring and empowering UCL’s research leaders and the disruptive thinking they generate.
  2. Crossing boundaries to increase engagement between disciplines, communities and activities.
  3. Delivering impact for public benefit.

We have also identified three cross-cutting themes, which draw on UCL’s core values and characterise how we will approach these aims:

  1. Pursuing a responsible research agenda.
  2. Exerting our institutional influence for the greater good.
  3. Maintaining a global perspective.

What difference will this strategy make?

No one knows.

After all, UCL got along very well for 180 years before I introduced its first research strategy in 2008. A more detailed strategy followed in 2011, introducing three aims: leadership founded in excellence; cross-disciplinarity grounded in expertise; and realising the impact of a global university.

My view is that, in attempting to describe what makes up UCL’s ‘research ethos’, we have helped people to understand their individual efforts can also be part of a collective enterprise. The 2011 strategy encouraged a spirit of collaboration and a recognition that the contribution of which each of us is capable could be vastly greater when made together. This was particularly evident in what we termed ‘cross-disciplinarity’ and the addressing of major societal problems, which I sense have become integral to how we in UCL see and understand ourselves.

I do not claim that none of this would have happened in the absence of a strategy. I do, however, believe that writing down, sharing and reflecting upon our aspirations helps to clarify them and secures a degree of common ownership.

The new draft strategy is not a break with the past, but a recognition that we in UCL must continue to stretch ourselves if we are to continue to fulfil our potential. We must become even more ambitious, strengthening our resilience to external events while upholding our core values. Its three aims build upon and expand those of the 2011 strategy, responding to the changes over the last decade within and beyond our university.

What could this strategy mean for me?

I hope that it will be inspiring, empowering and enabling!

We’ve attempted to define the factors that will enhance a nurturing environment in which:

  • your research leadership is encouraged, cherished, sustained, recognised and rewarded
  • your expertise can be enhanced through interaction with other disciplines
  • you receive support and encouragement to engage with different communities and practices
  • the consequences of your work are amplified
  • the intense pressures and practical constraints that you will face at different stages of your career are addressed.

We also want to hear from you on what more you would like to see UCL doing to support you (and how), so please respond to the consultation.

Why and how was a revised strategy developed?

With the exception of our shared values, much has changed at UCL since the 2011 research strategy was introduced.

Our research community and portfolio have grown, as has our international reputation. We are engaged in extensive research partnerships – nationally and internationally – and academic groups continue to come up with new ideas to open up new areas of research. We have become more explicit about our commitments to ‘cross-disciplinarity’ and to addressing major societal problems.

UCL 2034, our institutional strategy, drew some inspiration from the 2011 research strategy, while itself stimulating the development of other strategies, such as those for education, global engagement, innovation and enterprise, and culture and public engagement. We set out to update the 2011 strategy so that it would complement and support these other strategies, while taking into account the current scale, breadth and quality of UCL research.

The draft strategy also seeks to respond to many changes underway in the external policy, regulatory and funding landscape (if we know one thing, it is that the effects of these changes are unpredictable) and, of course, Brexit. We must find ways for UCL to be resilient in the face of threats to our academic freedom, to our funding streams, to our ability to recruit the most promising (and collaborate with the best) researchers, and to the cosmopolitan nature of our community.

During development of this draft strategy, feedback on proposals and previous iterations has been gained from members of a volunteer Academic Advisory Group, through meetings with groups of researchers hosted by the Provost and me, and discussion at the Provost’s Leadership Forum and by the Senior Management Team. Comments and suggestions we received have informed and improved subsequent drafts of the strategy.

This process is now culminating in a UCL-wide consultation lasting more than three months (one month of which is left). It is now your chance to provide feedback and suggestions.

What sort of feedback do you want?

We want to hear your views on the aims and cross-cutting themes identified in the draft strategy and how you think they (could) apply to your work.

We also want to hear from you on the concrete things we can do to make this strategy not just aspirational but genuinely shaping our research environment. This could include anything from addressing practical obstacles that you currently find an impediment to research, to things you’ve seen work well somewhere at UCL (or elsewhere) and would like to see happen more widely, to transformative ideas for implementing the strategy’s aims.

The more ideas we receive from the UCL research community, the better our implementation and delivery plans will be, and the greater the likelihood that we will achieve this strategy’s ambitions.

What difference will my comments make?

During consultation on earlier drafts of the strategy, it was striking that while the feedback provided from various quarters to broadly endorsed its aims and objectives, the majority of responders provided comments that could be summarised generically as: “Yes, but how?”

Thus the consultation asks you to consider not only the aims and objectives, but also the actions proposed in the draft framework for delivery. We recognise the many and varied obstacles facing the implementation of this strategy, and are keenly aware that overcoming them will require us to draw on the insights of the whole UCL community. So we’d like your ideas, please.

Additionally, we want to hear from you on the many difficult issues where we don’t have immediate answers, but where I know the wider UCL research community’s expertise and experience can help us to make progress. In due course, we intend to set up a small number of working groups – led by academics – in order to consider some of the most intractable barriers to achieving our ambitions, and to explore practical actions to mitigate or remove these.

If you would like to get involved in a working group or help us to refine these ideas – see more detail on page 8 of the draft framework for delivery – please contact us (ovpr@ucl.ac.uk). We expect that the initial proposed working groups will focus on the following issues, but we welcome your suggestions of other issues that working groups could address effectively:

  • supporting equality and increasing diversity in research
  • enabling leadership
  • stability for early career researchers
  • cross-disciplinary collaboration.

All consultation responses will be read and carefully considered. Where we can act on them, we will; where we cannot, we will use your suggestions to stimulate the thinking of the working groups and inform our longer-term ambitions.
Summaries of the responses will be provided to the Academic Advisory Group, the Provost’s Leadership Forum, the Senior Management Team and a Town Hall meeting for comment. A final version of the strategy will be submitted for approval by Council.

What’s the framework for delivery?

A strategy without an implementation plan is unlikely to bring about the improvements we wish to see. That’s why the draft framework for delivery suggests – for each of the 34 objectives in the draft strategy – what we need to do to achieve it, and proposes how we might do so. It identifies those teams within my office who will lead that activity, and those outside my office who are identified as key delivery partners.

In discussion with key delivery partners, we will develop specific action plans with priorities, measures of success and timelines for delivery.

Progress and constraints on achieving these objectives will be reported on regularly, and proposed future activities consulted upon. We will also publish a brief annual priority action plan, indicating the key focus of activities – particularly those responding to short-term priorities – over the following academic year.

By the way, what’s a Vice-Provost (Research) for?

Other than spending time getting excited about research strategies, I represent you.

I work to try to reduce the obstacles and to focus resources to enable our research community to do what we do best: be creative and pursue novel, vital and impactful research. From nurturing researchers and catalysing cross-disciplinary working, to attracting funding and influencing policy, I endeavour to create a supportive environment for you, rich in opportunities. I also work to ensure that our research is making a distinctive and meaningful contribution to the world.

And I represent UCL by engaging with other universities, funders and government, to show what our wonderful institution has to offer and to shape a positive external environment so that it benefits you.

By giving me your input into this research strategy, you will help me to do my job better.

Thank you.

Prof David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research)

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