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Vice-Provost views



The Grand Challenges: new collaborations making a difference

By uccg04p, on 28 November 2018

UCL Grand ChallengesThe research excellence of UCL’s staff continues to grow and grow, as witnessed by our publications, citations, research successes and our global reputation. However, we must also be more than the sum of our parts, consequently UCL’s commitment to address global challenges reflects our belief in the transformative role of universities through applying academic expertise for public benefit.

Today I’d like to set out our recent progress against that aim through UCL Grand Challenges, our flagship programme for cross-disciplinary collaboration with societal impact, and to draw your attention to some upcoming opportunities for your own engagement.

As an academic community, our understanding of complex problems is enriched and strengthened through the pursuit of both fundamental disciplinary problems and importantly by exploring interactions across and beyond disciplinary boundaries. They enable us to access new perspectives, gain new insights, challenge and test our ideas, and foster discovery.

Since UCL Grand Challenges was launched 10 years ago, it has brought together researchers from across UCL to help us collectively become more impactful. I would highlight five recent accomplishments:

You can find out more about the impact the UCL Grand Challenges has had, here at UCL and beyond, in our new brochure, Developing solutions.

When we launched UCL Grand Challenges, it marked a new approach in higher education, and many universities across the UK have subsequently developed their own programmes designed to foster cross-disciplinarity. We’re glad to see UCL’s cross-disciplinary approach gaining traction with the wider academic community, as indeed it has in funding calls – from the initial Research Council cross-cutting programmes to the more recent Global Challenge Research Fund and the UKRI’s cross-cutting ‘strategic priorities fund’.

Through its Industrial Strategy, the government has also embraced a ‘grand challenges’ approach, and we are engaged with the relevant team at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, including through UCL Grand Challenges, UCL Public Policy and the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose.

In the 2019 UCL Research Strategy, we will set out our goal to foster UCL’s world-leading research, built upon three key aims: Inspire and Empower Research Leadership, Cross Boundaries to Increase Engagement, and Deliver Impact for Public Benefit. We believe that by strengthening our individual and institutional partnerships we can use our combined expertise to make a difference to the world around us, and that this is more than just a lofty ideal – it’s a practical action that is supported at every level of the university.

I’d like to close by bringing to your attention the current opportunities to get involved with UCL Grand Challenges:

  • we have funding opportunities of up to £2,500 open for work related to Embedded Inequalities (Justice & Equality) and Health Systems (Global Health). Please apply online before 3 December. There are also upcoming funding opportunities for work on Migration and Displacement (a pan-UCL Grand Challenge) and Social and Ethical Aspects of Artificial Intelligence (Transformative Technology).
  • we are also hosting two discussions in December, ‘Free Speech in the Age of Social Media’, chaired by Prof Margaret O’Brien (UCL Institute of Education), and ‘Take Back Control: Empowering People in the Welfare State’, chaired by former Labour leader, Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP. Find out more and book tickets here.

The ultimate aim of the Grand Challenges is, to echo UCL 2034, to deliver global impact. We have a responsibility to deploy the collective expertise of our academic community to make a difference not just to each other, or to our disciplines, but to the wider world. We have made enormous strides in embedding a culture of cross-disciplinarity at UCL, a principle that guides not just UCL Grand Challenges, but also the UCL Research Domains, our cross-disciplinary centres and institutes, our doctoral training and many other initiatives. I’m proud of the work that the UCL community has done over the last ten years, and confident that the next decade will see even greater achievements for the benefit of humanity.

Professor David Price

Vice Provost (Research)

Setting course for the £1bn club – advancing philanthropy in uncertain times

By ucyolma, on 14 November 2018

We are now just over two years since the public launch of the It’s All Academic Campaign to raise £600m in philanthropic income for UCL. Earlier in 2018 we hit the £400m mark a year ahead of the projected schedule and we will reach £500m in the first quarter of next year.

Barring extreme unforeseen circumstances, our next campaign will certainly put UCL in the highly exclusive club of non-USA universities with billion pound campaigns. So this seems like a good time to reflect on how we have managed to come so far so quickly, and how we build on this success to drive forward our future fundraising – especially in an economic and political environment that has become deeply unpredictable.

Philanthropy in the funding mix

Philanthropy helps UCL multiply and accelerate its local, national and global impact. With a declining proportion of the funding for our research, teaching and enterprise coming from the state, we need to diversify sustainable financial support for the academy’s important work. In the US, a big chunk of that traditionally comes from private philanthropy. In the UK, as the role of the state increased after World War II, the role of philanthropy declined.

There is an urgent need for it to grow again, as state support shrinks. UCL’s Campaign puts us at the forefront of efforts to encourage that.

Anticipating emerging global concerns

The process of philanthropy is sometimes seen as being driven by the needs or priorities of a particular institution, department or individual. In this model, the need for funding is identified and it is then the job of the advancement team to find and cultivate the right donors. In planning this Campaign, for example, we consulted widely with the academic community to set the major priority projects on which we would focus.

Wolfson Foundation Chief Executive Paul Ramsbottom meets UCL’s Adrian Ivinson to tour the UK Dementia Research Institute interim hub

Many more times, however, the drive is the other way – the world says ‘this is important’ and UCL’s expertise and excellence puts us in the driving seat. This is where philanthropy really becomes an art as well as a science. As the external environment changes, so does the impact that major global philanthropists want to have. UCL’s success lies in its ability to anticipate emerging priorities and concerns so that it is positioned to lead the way rather than playing catch up.

Academic expertise to engage donors

A really close relationship between the academic community and UCL’s fundraising professionals is crucial to this. Over the past very busy few months in particular, the time, energy and expert knowledge of many academic colleagues has been what has enabled UCL to create meaningful engagements with potential donors and expand their understanding of UCL in a compelling way.

Professor Tariq Enver conveys the unique impact of UCL cancer research to current and prospective donors

From mobilising quickly to respond to emerging opportunities in artificial intelligence to dedicating deep consideration to how we coherently tell the complex and unique story of cancer research and translation at UCL – this is where the expert knowledge of the academic community is vital and irreplaceable. We know there are already multiple demands on your time and we are hugely grateful for your willingness to work hand in hand with the fundraising team. It is this approach – the fundraising university rather than any university with a fundraising office – that makes the difference between the merely good and the global elite in the world of philanthropy.

Thinking outside in and inside out

An added bonus of being a fundraising university with close connections to global influencers is the dual perspective this gives us – ‘outside in’ as well as ‘inside out’ thinking. In a sector in which reputation is hard currency operating in a highly political environment, the information and insight we gain from interested, supportive and sometimes critical friends is immensely valuable.

Philanthropy, Brexit and global UCL

As we edge closer to March 2019, I hear more and more concern across the community that our philanthropic fundraising will be negatively affected by Brexit. It’s true that anecdotally I am starting to hear from a small number of philanthropists that the uncertainty around the UK’s political and economic position is making them think twice about giving right now. From a philanthropy point of view, though, it is not the impact of an economic downturn that is my major concern: we saw that the 2008 economic shocks had very little effect on levels of philanthropic giving. We can hope that any economic downturn caused by Brexit would have similarly little lasting impact.

The greater threat to my mind is the damage that is already being done to the UK’s reputation for being open and global, a place that is internationally engaged and collaborates across borders. Philanthropy is global and major philanthropists want to partner with institutions that share that internationalist ethos. UCL’s cross-disciplinary excellence and ethos make it a unique and highly desirable partner, but we can’t solve all the world’s challenges by ourselves. Leading global philanthropists are even more impressed by how we partner internationally to address large-scale problems that no one institution or industry can do alone.

Engaging supporters and alumni in Hong Kong

That makes our preparations for Brexit, and in particular the excellent work led by the Global Engagement Office to expand our international partnerships, crucial. If the UK is going to become more inward-looking, we must ensure that UCL expresses ever more proactively its internationalist ethos. It is work that the Provost and Vice-Provost (International) are leading but in which all of us play our part. I am confident that UCL’s determination to maintain and expand it’s global vision against the current political tide will win us even greater philanthropic support and success in the coming years.

UCL’s triple track European strategy

By ucypnmb, on 7 November 2018

Dr Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost InternationalAs the clock ticks down to 29 March 2019, doubts about what the future holds are growing, not reducing.

But at UCL we aren’t sitting on our hands. We’ve been consolidating existing links with Europe and identifying new partnerships that will last beyond Brexit day. We’ve also been preparing for a range of Brexit scenarios and determining how best to support our EU staff and students in each of these, most recently by stepping up our planning for a ‘no deal’ or ‘hard’ Brexit, as the Provost’s View this week explains.

I want to give you more details of the triple track European strategy we’ve devised in response to Brexit. Many academic colleagues have worked with support from the Global Engagement Office to develop this; this article only mentions some of their names. I’d like to thank everyone who has given their time and thoughts on how to counter the negative effects of Brexit on research, teaching and enterprise.

We are lucky to have an extraordinary breadth and depth of partnerships and collaborations with colleagues across Europe[1]. So we neither need, nor want to take a top-down, single EU partner approach, as some other UK institutions have chosen to do. Our existing relationships allow us to take a more inclusive approach, as part of our triple track European strategy:

  1. UCL is consolidating existing partnerships, initially focussing on nine priority European Higher Education partners

Several Faculties already have clear priority EU partner organisations. These include:

  • a new partnership framework with KU Leuven, set up this year, focused on neurodegenerative research. Professor Bart de Strooper, now jointly appointed to UCL and KU Leuven, supervises this partnership from the UK Dementia Research Institute, which he leads
  • the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, led by Professor Ray Dolan, is being renewed this month. Another major collaboration with the Max Planck Society is in the pipeline, which I hope to be able to update you on shortly
  • in the humanities and social sciences, UCL has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Paris Sciences et Lettres, the first-ranked French collegiate university, to support a three year £90k research collaboration aimed at academic staff and PhD students.

These developments are additional to the range of existing programmes, dual degrees, joint appointments and research partnerships that have been in place across many European Higher Education Institutions for some time.

Having analysed patterns of existing activities by Faculties and individual academics in detail, we are prioritising our support for developing the partnerships with nine HEIs and research organisations in Europe. In addition to the three organisations mentioned above, we are currently prioritising links with:

  • Sorbonne Université – our partners on a Dual Masters in Brain and Mind Sciences
  • Sciences Po Paris – with whom we share a Dual Bachelors in European Social and Political Studies
  • TU Delft – a member of the Bartlett’s BauHow5 consortium, currently developing projects on sustainability in the built environment
  • Utrecht University – with whom we share a joint appointment and a number of major research grants
  • ETH Zurich – a fellow member of the BauHow5 group and one of the highest ranked institutions in Europe
  • LMU Munich – with whom we are currently engaged on nine Horizon2020 projects
  1. UCL is launching the Cities partnerships Programme (CpP)

The second track of our European strategy is the launch, this year, of an entirely new programme, the Cities partnerships Programme. It begins in Europe, with the aim of deepening UCL’s partnerships, expanding our networks and communicating our high-profile activity in global cities. We invited applications for the role of Academic Director, one per city, from UCL’s academic community. Applicants were asked to propose cities with which they already have significant links. Based on the strongest applications, our first two cities will be Rome and Paris. Activity in Rome is led by Dr Florian Mussgnug, from the School of European Languages, Culture & Society, and in Paris by Dr Claire Colomb from The Bartlett School of Planning.

The Cities partnerships Programme consists of three main strands: seed-funding for academic collaborations in research, teaching and learning; a series of public-facing events co-created with institutional partners and inspired by the seed-funded projects; and activities engaging the wider UCL network of students, alumni, schools and other partners.

Our focus on a city rather than a specific partner is unique for the sector. It means that UCL academics from any discipline are able to work with the partners they feel are the best in their field. Collaboratively, they will shape a coherent programme of activities, developing a broad programme of multidisciplinary research and education that is relevant and innovative.

The CpP will run in each city over three years so that we can establish long lasting impact. The small programme team will work with academics to develop partnerships which lead to joint appointments, research hubs, short courses, dual degrees, research fellowships, student mobility, publications, and access to bids for European funding.

Rome is a good place to start. More than 50 years after the Treaty of Rome, the Italian capital continues to represent European unity, as well as its current challenges. It is a fitting location to explore the Future of Europe – the theme for a series of academic events curated by Dr Mussgnug. We have a strong record of collaborations in Rome with high-ranking universities and other prestigious partners, and a growing network of colleagues, from archaeology to neuroscience with an interest in activity in the region.

Applications for Cities partnerships Programme seed-funding for collaborative projects in Rome are now open and the deadline to apply is 30 November. Further detail is available from the Global Engagement Office. Please do consider applying, and share the link with colleagues. Work will begin with partners in Paris in early 2019 with applications for seed-funding opening in the spring. We’ll be welcoming applications for an Academic Director who will identify a third city later next year.

  1. UCL has stepped up advocacy and UCL engagement in networks, platforms and policy

The third track in our European strategy has been to step up our support for EU research collaboration. We have encouraged our staff to take on coordination roles in collaborative research grants.  UCL has a rich history of academic collaboration across Europe and we are redoubling our efforts to ensure that this will continue; it is a non-negotiable part of our long term vision as a global university.

We’ve done this in a number of practical ways. Engaging with existing research partners, advocating effectively through networks and platforms, and supporting UCL academics in their funding bids, has helped  UCL to become the top-ranked HEI in all of Europe for Horizon 2020 collaborative projects.

We have increased our advocacy and lobbying on European issues which most affect the HE sector and the UK’s economy and society. These efforts are led by the Provost, not least in his roles as a member of LERU, as chair of the Russell Group’s EU Advisory Group, and the UK Universities Minister’s high level stakeholder working group on EU exit, universities, research and innovation.

Our academic community plays an important role in influencing and driving national and international policy around the Brexit debate. Members of UCL’s European Institute, Faculty of Laws and Department of Political Science in particular, like Professor Piet Eeckhout and others, have done a huge amount to inform and influence the debate on EU issues relevant to the Brexit negotiations. Dr Alan Renwick and Professor Meg Russell (UCL Constitution Unit) established the Independent Commission on Referendums, and published their findings in a 200-page report, which is the most comprehensive review of referendums in the past 20 years. They are engaging with policy makers to bring about legislative change that will improve a key aspect of our democratic process. A UCL-wide forum, the Brexit and Beyond Steering Group, has brought together colleagues from across UCL to help inform UK policy on Europe through our research since 2016.

UCL staff with connections in Whitehall and Westminster, like Professor Graeme Reid (and I), contribute through those channels, speaking at conferences and seminars as well as private meetings and hosting visits to UCL by UK and other EU Ministers and senior officials involved in the Brexit negotiations. UCL colleagues also play an important role through sitting on bodies such as the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the Government’s high level stakeholder group , the Council of Research England and the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee.

I would welcome your comments on this triple track European strategy, in particular ideas for expanding it or making it more effective as the Brexit crunch gets ever closer.

Best wishes,

Dame Nicola Brewer
Vice Provost International

[1] In 2016, our figures show that that UCL academics collaborated on journal articles with colleagues from over one thousand European organisations, including more than 475 universities.

Making it easier for all to engage with innovation and enterprise at UCL

By ucypcac, on 31 October 2018


As a world-leading university, UCL deserves outstanding support for all elements of innovation and enterprise. Our ambition at UCL Innovation & Enterprise is to offer this to all our staff and students.

UCL Innovation and Enterprise. Photos by Kirsten Holst

In the last few months, UCL has seen some outstanding successes in the area of innovation and enterprise. Two of our spinout companies, Autolus Therapeutics and MeiraGTx have launched on the NASDAQ with IPOs (Initial Public Offerings) raising a combined figure of $235m (£184m). A third UCL spinout company, Orchard Therapeutics, has announced its intention to raise $200m (£156m) through an IPO. All these companies focus on advanced therapeutics – gene and cell therapy – delivering great patient benefit.

Academics from at least four areas – Electronic and Electrical Engineering, the Bartlett School of Architecture, Neuroscience and Computer Science – are collaborating through new cohesive networks with world-leading dance companies, such as the English National Ballet, Studio Wayne McGregor and Sadler’s Wells, responding to the dance sector’s desire to innovate.

Four entrepreneurial undergraduates set up a social enterprise around helping farmers in the developing world to dry rice. They went on to win the $1m Hult Prize and meet Bill Clinton, beating stiff competition from 2,500 other social enterprises worldwide. Meanwhile, a variety of research teams from UCL departments including Chemical Engineering and Chemistry are working with companies on battery technology projects funded by the Faraday Battery Institute, including one to shape the UK-based solid state materials supply chain.

All of these successes have been supported by us at Innovation & Enterprise, which exists at UCL to help staff and students develop their ideas and see them taken up to make a difference to the world.

Capabilities enhanced at Innovation & Enterprise

We have recently brought together the capabilities that UCL needs to support the innovation and enterprise agenda, so that they all now sit as one under Innovation & Enterprise. Included are capabilities to fund the development of ideas, support the creation of short courses (formerly UCL Life Learning), help build innovative business partnerships, commercialise technologies (UCL Business PLC), support those undertaking consultancy (UCL Consultants Ltd) and share how to think and grow as an entrepreneur.

Having these skills together, rather than fragmented, will make it easier for you – our staff and students – to engage with the innovation and enterprise agenda. You no longer have to think: ‘Who do I talk to about commercialising an idea, or where do I go to get funding?’ Just contact Innovation & Enterprise, and we’ll support you.

And the timing of us coming together in this way is just right. The government has set a challenge to UK universities to help grow the UK investment in research and development (R&D) to 2.4% of GDP by 2027.  While talking with Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, he emphasised to me that universities partnering with businesses and innovation accelerators is vital if we are to achieve this goal.  The government wants businesses to increase their investment in R&D, and some of this at least will happen in collaboration with universities, with UCL, with you and me.

There is another element of the government’s ambition to consider.  Rebecca Endean, Strategy Director at UKRI (UK Research and Innovation), makes the point that the government target of 2.4% is an ambition, but what really matters is the outcomes this will achieve.  These are about creating a knowledge-based economy, more jobs, better society, better culture, more wellbeing and more resilience[1].

Working to help innovative ideas achieve their full potential

Bringing together the capabilities we have in Innovation & Enterprise puts the university on the front foot in helping achieve these outcomes.  We can see this working already in our support for trade missions involving UCL spinout companies to Japan and Switzerland; in our work at the UCL School of Pharmacy, creating a new short course that shares best practice with the pharmaceutical industry in the Middle East; and in our support for the UCL Department of Experimental Psychology, working with Audible to shape the tone and voice of audio books.

We have awarded £3.2m to 113 projects across all faculties in the last year to develop ideas to application, and seen more than 1,600 students involved in our entrepreneurship programmes. This has resulted in great outcomes of almost 60 startups, 160 employed staff and £6.7m investment raised.

To do this we have a talented team made up of specialists from all walks of life.  Researchers from academia and industry – companies we have worked for include GSK, AstraZeneca, IBM, Virgin, PwC, and others – people from government agencies, the United Nations and EU bodies. We have worked for startups and big corporates, we include entrepreneurs, consultants, executive and non-executive board members (past and present) and auditors.

This team knows what it takes to get new ideas and enterprises off the ground. They work across UCL, listening to anyone and everyone, discussing their ideas, working with them to develop these as innovation opportunities.  It’s our job to make it as easy as we can for UCL people to engage with UCL’s ambition to change the world and to do this through all elements of innovation and enterprise.

This sounds very rosy and positive. It is. We believe passionately in the capability of everyone at UCL to make a difference, and our ability, in Innovation & Enterprise, to support this. But there are some real challenges in front of us.

Preparing for Brexit challenges

Talking with the CBI (Confederation of British Industry) last week, following their most recent Brexit-readiness survey, (I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning the Brexit word!) they set out some of the issues. The lack of clarity for businesses of all sizes and types is leading to reduced investment. Companies are finding it challenging to see opportunities post-Brexit. There are looming skills issues. Managing other risks is causing some companies to stock pile their products, introducing unexpected challenges to the associated supply chains.  And – not driven by Brexit – many research-engaged and research-intensive companies are focusing their university engagement on a limited number of partners.  Being aware of these challenges, and sensitive to the need to support UCL’s staff and students in their engagement with industry and innovation partners, is a part of the business of Innovation & Enterprise.

It is our ambition that we will work to help each and every one of you in some capacity. As universities go, UCL is world-leading at research and pretty good at innovation and enterprise. Yet knowing the huge potential within UCL, there’s so much more that can be achieved.  Whether you have a specific question or you just want to understand more about innovation and enterprise, please come and talk to us. We are here to help.

[1] http://www.foundation.org.uk/Events/AudioPdf.aspx?s=1555

Find out more

Email us at enterprise@ucl.ac.uk

Or visit the UCL Innovation & Enterprise website to find out more.

A pan-UCL view of Health and Life Sciences

By rmhzdal, on 18 October 2018

The School of Life and Medical Sciences (SLMS) seeks to tackle the greatest health challenges that face society, including dementia, mental health, genetic disease, obesity, infectious disease, cancer and ageing. This is a prodigious ambition and we don’t do it alone.

Our ambition is to bring together UCL researchers, across all UCL disciplines and Schools, who work on health – and our definition of health is all encompassing! As well as human physical and mental health, this could include animal health and planetary health (‘One Health’).

In order to facilitate these important pan-UCL initiatives on health, in early 2016 we established the UCL Health Strategy Forum to address the need for a pan-UCL perspective across the breadth of our health priorities. Vice Deans (Health or Interdisciplinarity) or Health Champions have been appointed in all UCL Faculties and are members of the Forum. This pan-UCL engagement has highlighted the range of UCL Faculties involved in multi-disciplinary, health-related research and the extent of the levels at which it takes place: through institutes, centres or hubs, consortia, and projects of varying scale and scope.

The Forum plays a key role in supporting the significant advances made by the UCL Domains and UCL Grand Challenges in extending and developing interactions between SLMS and the rest of UCL. Pan-UCL health research is facilitated via the UCL Research Domains of: Personalised Medicine, Populations & Lifelong Health, Neuroscience, Cancer and more recently established Domains on Food Metabolism and Society, and Microbiology. A very successful launch event for the Microbiology research Domain was held in April 2018. Domain activities are co-ordinated via the Office of the Vice Provost (Health) Research Coordination Office, and the Office of the UCL Vice-Provost (Research).

  • The Cancer Domain aims to ensure that the breadth and depth of cancer research is visible to external audiences, and brings together investigators around four themes: Understanding Cancer; Treating Cancer; Technology; and Cancer in Society. It links UCL computer scientists, ethicists, statisticians, clinicians, engineers, physicists, and life scientists as well as NHS Trusts, funders, and industry partners. Their recent ‘Artificial Intelligence in Cancer’ event brought together over 120 researchers.
  • The UCL Personalised Medicine Domain aims to harness the personalised medicine research activity across the university and its partner hospitals, to deliver innovative patient-targeted medicines and therapies. The Domain has established a Precision Medicine accelerator focused on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for Healthcare. The SLMS Translational Research Office (TRO) worked together with venture capitalists, companies and the UCL community notably, BEAMS investigators to develop the AI in Health accelerator.
  • The Populations & Lifelong Health domain co-ordinated UCL’s successful £7m application for membership of Health Data Research UK, as a pan-London collaboration with Imperial, Kings, QMUL, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The focus is on health informatics and actionable analytics, precision medicine, public health, and clinical trials.
  • The Neuroscience Domain has supported the UCL Mental Health strategy working group which consulted widely across UCL to develop recommendations for our future mental health research direction. It has also helped to facilitate productive connections between the Institute of Education and the Divisions of Psychology and Language Sciences and Psychiatry.

Education also benefits from a pan-UCL approach and UCL offers 28 health-related Masters’ programmes external to SLMS, including a new Master’s degree in Bio-social Anthropology. In addition to the 15 MSc, 7 MA and 5 MRes programmes across BEAMS, SLASH and the IoE, Engineering hosts an EPSRC Doctoral Training Programme in Medical Imaging, MAPS offers a health-related post-graduate certificate, and Laws offer two health-related modules.

We aim to extend our impact by close working with UCL’s NHS partners and other Academic Health Science Centres within London and the Southeast cluster. We are involved in a range of exciting major projects with our national and international partners. These are some of our research initiatives:

  • The Wellcome/EPSRC Centre for Interventional and Surgical Sciences (WEISS) accommodates researchers from the Faculty of Engineering, the Division of Surgery & Interventional Science, the Centre for Medical Imaging and the Institute for Healthcare Engineering in state-of-the-art interdisciplinary facilities at Charles Bell House, enabling research at the intersection of engineering and health.
  • Led by UCL Biochemical Engineering, the EPSRC Future Vaccine Manufacturing Research Hub (Vax-Hub) will drive vaccine discovery, development and manufacturing, bringing together 25 partners with industry and policy makers to address key challenges in vaccine manufacturing.
  • The EPSRC IRC in Early-Warning Sensing Systems for Infectious Diseases (i-sense) is a multidisciplinary research consortium which aims to engineer a new generation of disruptive sensing systems to diagnose, monitor and prevent the spread of infectious diseases such as major flu epidemics, MRSA and HIV.
  • The contribution of health economics to decisions concerning the production, distribution and evaluation of health and healthcare is recognised by health services worldwide. The Faculty of Population Health Sciences has brought together and strengthened the health economics community across UCL, including Economics, Statistical Science, IoE Social Science and Engineering.
  • The Complex Urban Systems for Sustainability and Health (CUSSH), a four-year Wellcome Trust funded collaboration between Bartlett School of Architecture and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, will deliver key global research on the systems that connect urban development and health.

UCL has one of the largest and most prestigious groupings of academics in biomedical, life and population health sciences in the world. While we are all familiar with the need to interpret league tables with care, they nonetheless provide a helpful indication that our performance over the last academic year supports this claim. In the QS World University Rankings, UCL ‘Life Sciences and Medicine’ ranked 8th in the world (up from 11th in 2017), moving ahead of Yale, UCSF and UCLA, and 3rd in the UK, sustaining our position ahead of our London peers, Imperial and King’s.

I am convinced that this success is due to our pursuit of UCL 2034’s third principal theme: to address global challenges using our ‘distinctive cross-disciplinary approach’. We have made cross-disciplinarity a priority and we can only get better by working more closely with one another. I am keen that we continue to extend and grow the interactions in health and life sciences across UCL.

Professor David Lomas

Vice Provost (Health)

For further information on how to get involved, please contact the Domain leads, or:

Dr Sinéad Kennedy (Director of Research Co-ordination & Planning, OVPH) for research opportunities in health: sinead.kennedy@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Jane Kinghorn (Director of the Translational Research Office, OVPH) for translational research: j.kinghorn@ucl.ac.uk;

Dr Nandi Simpson (Acting Head of Partnerships and Projects, OVPH) for the Health Strategy Forum: i.simpson@ucl.ac.uk.

New technologies are crucial to our curriculum and its delivery

By ucypasm, on 10 May 2018

The transformation of our digital estate must keep pace with that of our physical estate, if we are to deliver a world class education, says Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education and Student Affairs)

Our students expect a blended education, with easy online access to lecture materials and further reading, recordings of lectures, as well as opportunities for virtual collaboration with their peers. Our Digital Education team has developed the ABC (Arena, Blended, Connected) ‘rapid development’ workshop for curriculum design so that blended learning can be systematically embedded into formal programme and module planning and I warmly encourage colleagues to get in touch with the team, digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk, to arrange a workshop for your programme. So far 173 modules and 28 CPD courses and MOOCs have been designed or redesigned through 69 ABC workshops with academic teams.

Of course, key to blended learning is Moodle, our digital learning environment. Moodle is widely used by students and staff and I am pleased that we have agreed on the UCL E-Learning Baseline, a set of minimum standards for every Moodle course, including the desirability, requested by the Students’ Union, that lecture materials be made available online 48 hours in advance, where that is practicable.

After a huge increase in use by students, the Digital Education team is preparing to reconfigure Moodle for the start of session 2018-19, to make it more responsive and accessible, and to make sure that it reflects accurately the module data currently being collected by the Academic Model Project (see below). I recognise that this will place an additional burden on teaching and teaching support staff, at a time when they are managing other new initiatives such as the Late Summer Assessment period and I would like to thank everyone in advance for their support for this urgent and necessary work. The new Moodle will bring a new, more accessible theme (the look and feel that sits on top of Moodle), that will enable those with disabilities to better use the VLE, as well as making it easier for all staff and students to navigate and use. Read more about the Accessible Moodle theme and the project that made it happen on the Digital Education blog.

lecture being delivered

Lecturecast, where students can revisit all or part of their lectures, is one of the services that receives very positive feedback from students. The accessibility it affords strengthens the inclusive nature of our education, and helps our students to direct their own learning. There has been a five-fold increase in the use of Lecturecast this year – 50% of classes held in Lecturecast-enabled spaces are now being recorded. I encourage departments and individuals to use the system wherever possible – students are clear that this is what they want and increasingly expect. We are planning to install the technology into smaller classrooms in addition to our large capacity lecture theatres over the next few years to meet student demand.

Technology supporting assessment and feedback

Digital technology is already bringing improvements to assessment and feedback across our taught programmes. Introduced nearly ten years ago, Turnitin is a digital system that works via Moodle to manage all stages of the assessment process for written assessments, including submission, marking and returning work, giving feedback and supporting good academic writing. Turnitin is now used in nearly all departments and more than 200,000 pieces of work have been submitted already this year.

MyFeedback, a tool within Moodle, allows students to view all their assessment feedback in a single view, which means that they can compare and identify common areas for improvement, with the support of their personal tutors. MyFeedback provides quick access to feedback provided in Moodle Assignments, Turnitin Assignments, quizzes, workshops (for peer assessment) and feedback within the Moodle gradebook. The MyFeedback report was developed at UCL and is now being used by more than 400 other institutions worldwide. But many UCL modules do not provide electronic feedback within Moodle, which means MyFeedback cannot be used by these students. Assessment and feedback is the one area where we have struggled to demonstrate consistent improvement across UCL. Students tell us this and it was reflected in last year’s Teaching Excellence Framework and will come into even sharper focus in subject-level TEF. The MyFeedback tool is one approach to help with feedback. Please take a look at it or ask for a demonstration. It is a powerful tool that we need to adopt more widely across UCL.

The digital spine of UCL education

Thank you to everyone who has been collaborating with Academic Services on the Academic Model Project, through which we are making urgent improvements to Portico. This comprehensive exercise to gather module data, programme summaries, and teaching and assessment data will result in the streamlining of many processes – for example, students will find module selection much more straightforward. This project touches on other services including Moodle and Lecturecast, and we are working to avoid disruption to these key services at start of session. Preparations for the next phase of the project has already begun, focussing on the delivery of further process improvements to key areas including module registration, progression and award. Again, I would like to thank everyone involved in the collection and processing of this data. These projects add to your already substantial workload, but the dividend will be efficient systems with quick access to accurate data that will improve our teaching delivery.

Our ambition is to deliver exceptional teaching and learning: giving all our students the opportunity to conduct original research, to learn across disciplines and to develop, through their programmes and extracurricular opportunities, the skills that will help them towards rewarding and exciting careers. A digital infrastructure that is robust, reliable and user-friendly is vital to meet this ambition. Thank you for all your work with our digital environment – it will greatly enhance the student experience.

Championing academic freedom in Europe

By ucypnmb, on 8 May 2018

Dr Dame Nicola Brewer, Vice-Provost InternationalIn my last VP view I wrote that a global strategic focus will not constrain UCL’s academic freedom and creativity. We have started to think how our Global Engagement Strategy could do better than that, and actively champion academic freedom. And we will start with Europe, for obvious reasons.

Recent criticism of universities (including UCL) in the media, and being on the Advisory Board of UCL’s Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE), made me think about why it seems increasingly hard for people to see the incredible social benefits universities bring. Professor Michael Ignatieff, President of the Central European University, helped answer that question in his keynote at this year’s CGHE conference. You can watch his inspiring and challenging talk on ‘Academic freedom and the future of Europe’ in this video.

Prof Ignatieff argues that academic freedom is a core European value and a right that protects us all, not a privilege of the professorial elite as it is sometimes misrepresented. His description of universities as “counter-majoritarian institutions” – as vital to society as a free press and an independent judiciary, in counter-balancing majority governments – struck a particular chord with me. Democracy should not be equated with majoritarianism. I saw the risks of that, at first hand, in South Africa. In the UK, the “the will of the people” mantra, after the EU referendum, implied a majoritarian interpretation.

In a recent blog post for WonkHE: ‘By 2030, will universities ‘walk fast and alone – or walk far and together’?, I explored what higher education leaders could do for the best at a time when both the public benefit of universities and the benefits of globalisation are disputed.

UCL's Cara student ambassador Miriam Matthiesson with current Cara Fellow Dr Naif BezwanThis includes promoting the freedom to share knowledge and collaborate, which was part of UCL’s founding ethos. Ways in which we continue to do that include UCL’s longstanding partnership with Cara (the Council for At Risk Academics). Through that partnership, we support academics who have been unable to continue their work in their home countries. One example is Dr Naif Bezwan, from Turkey, and you can read UCL’s Cara student ambassador Miriam Matthiessen’s feature about Dr Bezwan here.

Continued appetite for European collaboration

UCL now has nearly 200 European Research Council grantees and has published more than 24,000 papers with EU partners over the past five years. It is inspiring how UCL academics, at all stages of their careers, seem to have a natural reflex to seek out international collaborators. The explanation colleagues give me is that science (in the widest sense) is inherently global. Science has no nationality, as Imran Khan from the Wellcome Trust reminded us during a panel discussion with the Spanish Minister for Science and Innovation at UCL last month.

In the UCL School of Slavonic and East European Studies, 15 early career researchers are studying the rise of right-wing populism in post-communist Europe as part of the EU-funded FATIGUE project, under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Networks. These networks aim to train a new generation of creative, entrepreneurial and innovative early stage researchers to convert their knowledge and ideas into products and services for economic and social benefit.

UCL academics are helping to increase independent research capability around the world in many other ways. You may have heard about two successful Horizon 2020 Teaming projects underway: RISE and the Discoveries Centre for Regenerative and Precision Medicine.

RISE is the first research centre in Cyprus focusing on interactive media, smart systems and emerging technologies, aiming to become a centre of excellence empowering knowledge and technology transfer in the region. UCL’s team of Alastair Moore (UCL Advances), Professors Anthony Steed and Niloy Mitra (Department of Computer Science), Michael Browne and Martin Scott (European Research & Innovation) and Peter Reid (London Technology Network) are collaborating with the three public universities of Cyprus, the Municipality of Nicosia and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics.

UCL academics at the UK launch of the Discoveries centreThe Discoveries team working with a consortium of Portuguese Universities is led by Professor Jonathan Knowles, (UCL Eastman Dental Institute), with Ivan Wall (Department of Biochemical Engineering), Giampietro Schiavo (Institute of Neurology), Andreas Schätzlein (School of Pharmacy), Vivek Mudera (Division of Surgery), Richard Day (Division of Medicine), Tim McHugh (Division of Infection and Immunity) and Dr Jane Kinghorn (Translational Research Office). This multi-site venture is aimed at enhancing regenerative medicine research in Portugal, and launched in February this year.

Strengthening partnerships and dialogues

UCL and Belgium’s KU Leuven have a number of collaborations, the strongest of which is in neuroscience. This year, UCL’s Faculty of Brain Sciences signed a Memorandum of Understanding with KUL to undertake research and education in the field of dementia and related neurodegenerative diseases. This will include vital work on areas such as developing a single cell brain atlas of Alzheimer’s disease, humanized models for Alzheimer Disease, neuroinflammation and drug screening. The collaboration is led by Prof Bart de Strooper, who along with Prof John Hardy, won this year’s prestigious Brain Prize.

The Brain Prize is awarded annually by one of Denmark’s largest commercial foundations, The Lundbeck Foundation, and it was unprecedented for academics from the same institution – UCL – to receive the world-renowned accolade two years in a row. Last year’s winners were Prof Ray Dolan and Prof Peter Dayan, who lead the joint Max Planck-UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research, which has recently submitted its renewal proposal. The collaboration builds on the strong, multi-faculty partnership UCL has with Germany’s Max Planck Society. International recognition of UCL’s pioneering research is good news for the academics concerned, for our university – and for public understanding of the social benefits research brings.

The London Diplomatic Science Club met at UCL UCL also continues to encourage open dialogue on science and research with our European neighbours. Earlier this year UCL academics joined scientific attachés from 15 European Embassies for a London Diplomatic Science Club event to discuss future scientific and research collaboration in Europe, as well as attending the popular talk mentioned above by Carmen Vela, Spanish Minister for Research, Development and Innovation, on the role of research and innovation in creating opportunities for growth and prosperity. That event was jointly organised by UCL’s European Institute, Public Policy team and the Global Engagement Office (GEO). Carmen pointed out that, after the US, the UK is the country with which Spain most often collaborates, and that UCL is Spain’s top collaborator in the UK.

Dr Aline Courtois’ (UCL Institute of Education) fascinating CGHE report on “Higher education and Brexit: current European perspectives” is a sobering reminder of the importance of universities in Europe continuing to seek out new opportunities to work together.

What GEO is doing to help

As Brexit gets closer, GEO continues to prioritise strengthening UCL engagement with European colleagues, supporting UCL academics to connect with European colleagues who share their passion for knowledge and dedication to excellence.

Academics of any discipline wanting to kick-start or strengthen their collaborations in Europe (or further afield) can now apply to the Global Engagement Funds, which are open until 17 May. You can see some examples of how previous winners used their funding on our website here.

Dr Florian Mussgnug (School of European Languages, Culture and Society) is leading the Rome Multidisciplinary Research Hub, supported by GEO, which is fostering collaboration with Italian partners to encourage research excellence and international mobility across disciplines. See upcoming events here.

UCL and PSL launched new joint seed fundingUCL and Université PSL (Paris Sciences & Lettres) recently launched new joint research seed funding to support activity across arts, humanities and social sciences. New collaborations will consider pressing global challenges such as ‘The global, the national, and the European in an age of populism’ and ‘Migration, race, religion, terror’.

GEO continues working closely with colleagues across the university as part of the Provost’s Brexit Mitigation Group. Look out for a Provost’s View next month which will focus on the exciting new Cities Programme that UCL is launching to support continued academic collaboration with our European counterparts.

Regional news in brief

East Asia:

  • We’ll soon be announcing the winners of this year’s UCL-Peking University (PKU) strategic partner funds. The panel received so many strong applications that they have decided to fund more than last year – 14 collaborative projects across 7 faculties. The reports received from last year’s projects look really promising – one example is Professor Nick Greene’s (UCL GOS Institute of Child Health) work on neural tube defects.
  • Following the successful PKU presidential delegation visit to UCL in March, last week I attended PKU’s 120th anniversary celebrations and the World University President’s Forum.
  • Fukushima Prefecture, with which UCL has a longstanding collaboration, hosted a delegation including staff and students from UCL’s Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction, EPICentre and UCL Academy. Read UCL student Conor Galbraith’s great blog about the experience.

South Asia:

  • Professor Sarah Hawkes at Difficult Dialogues 2018UCL academics Professor Sarah Hawkes (UCL Centre for Gender and Global Health), Professor David Osrin (UCL Institute for Global Health), and Professor Margaret O’Brien (UCL Institute for Education) joined policy makers, development experts, NGOs and grassroots workers to help shape gender equality policy at the 2018 Difficult Dialogues forum in Goa.
  • UCL’s MAPS faculty hosted a visit from the Indian Institute of Astrophysics this month to discuss ongoing collaboration.
  • This September, Provost will lead a delegation visit to meet key partners in India including the Indian Institute of Science Bengaluru and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

North and Latin America:

  • UCL has been strengthening its engagement in Mexico this year – Pro-Vice-Provost (Latin America) Professor Alejandro Madrigal led a visit to key partners, and GEO’s Alejandro Moreno and Chris Cook presented on the Global Engagement Funds at the North American Center for Collaborative Development (NACCD) conference, and promoted UCL’s Summer School on Mexican radio.
  • After the Provost hosted a University of Toronto delegation to develop health science collaborations in January, UCL The Bartlett ran a joint workshop with UoT on Cities in April.
  • I welcomed Professor Pericles Lewis, the new Vice President (Global Strategy) and Deputy Provost (International Affairs) at Yale University to learn about Yale’s new global engagement strategy and to explore collaborations in Philosophy, Private Law, Neuroscience and Psychiatry and Material Sciences.
  • GEO is planning an academic-led visit to Chile in July and we would love to hear about your activity there – in particular with Universidad de Chile and La Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile. Please contact Rachel Hall to share details of your collaborations.

Africa and Middle East:

  • The National Museum of Qatar. Image: Karen ExellUCL Qatar are undertaking one of the largest research projects in the region on National Museums and the Public Imagination. Led by Dr Karen Exell and a team of international and Qatar-based researchers and academics, the project aims to develop an understanding of the public’s social and cultural perceptions and evaluate the impact of the National Museum of Qatar across Qatari nationals and expatriates. More than 1,500 respondents have taken part in a longitudinal study recording perceptions, values and cultural identity.
  • The first joint UCL-Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) Symposium, ‘Towards HIV and TB elimination in South Africa,’ took place in February.
  • April saw the UK launch of the RELIEF Centre, a transdisciplinary research collaboration led by Professor Henrietta Moore (UCL Institute for Global Prosperity) that focuses on how to build a prosperous and inclusive future for communities affected by mass displacement.

South East Asia and Australasia:

  • The UCL delegation meeting partners in SingaporeUCL professors Nick Phelps, Pro-Vice-Provost for South East Asia and Australasia, and Claudio Stern, Vice-Dean (International) for Medical Sciences, joined a delegation visit to leading institutions in Singapore to build on existing UCL research collaborations. As part of that visit, I also attended the Asia-Pacific Association for International Education Presidents’ Roundtable, discussing how universities can prepare students for the future workplace.


  1. Dr Naif Bezwan with Miriam Matthiesen
  2. Discoveries centre launch
  3. London Diplomatic Science Club event at UCL
  4. UCL-PSL funding launch
  5. Professor Sarah Hawkes at Difficult Dialogues 2018
  6. National Museum of Qatar: Dr Karen Exell
  7. UCL delegation in Singapore

A guide to working with your development office

By ucyolma, on 16 March 2018

With the It’s All Academic Campaign for UCL now well into its second year, I thought this would be an opportune time to recap the ways in which my team – the Office of the Vice-Provost Development (OVPD) – can support you with managing the donors and donations you are already working with, and help you to expand the pool of potential donors with whom you are engaging.

Campaign update

At the end of February 2018, the It’s All Academic Campaign was £374m towards its target of £600m. We are committed to engaging a community of supporters and mobilising them to become ambassadors, volunteers and donors. These goals and actions, fully support the UCL2034 priorities.

Professor Nick Fox, who helped to establish the UCL Dementia Retail Partnership, which uses the plastic bag levy to support UCL research

Recent successes in the last two months include a £5m donation from a UK foundation and a £1.2m legacy gift, both to support neuroscience capital projects. This month we are announcing a donation of £1m that has come from Baillie Gifford to support the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), directed by Mariana Mazzucato, to kick-start their training, research and public engagement activities related to ‘mission oriented innovation’. A number of other high level donations are in the pipeline and relationships with some significant global philanthropists are progressing promisingly.

We are honoured when people choose to donate to UCL, in November we celebrated over 55 donors who have given £1m+ at an exclusive Circle of Benefactors event.  Being able to mark their generosity and say thank you to so many people was a real privilege. We intend to create a lasting legacy of philanthropy at UCL, our new donor recognition wall in the Wilkins Terrace will ensure that future generations of students, staff and alumni will know who UCL’s benefactors are. We are also very excited to be choosing a bespoke design for this project from a competition that was open to Slade and Bartlett students.

Keeping the UCL-donor relationship strong

Ultimately, OVPD is here to ensure that philanthropic giving to UCL is growing. That we fulfil our potential to secure funds, that due diligence around donations is carried out, that donations are processed and managed effectively, and that the relationship with each donor is stewarded consistently and to a high standard.

Working hand in hand with the academic community I am proud of the relationships we have built up together. The partnership of staff across UCL is crucial as a donor can have multiple entry points into UCL. In many cases my team identifies people or organisations who are likely to be interested in funding a specific area that UCL excels in, or in supporting UCL itself, and works to take that relationship forward. In other cases, a potential donor develops a relationship with an individual or department and expresses an interest in supporting their work in some way. For example, a patient treated by one of our leading academic clinicians, an alumnus who becomes engaged with a particular piece of work being carried out by their old department, or even someone who visits an event or sees a report in the media and becomes fired up by what UCL is doing.

Contact us early

My main message is – bring my team in early when you become aware that someone may be interested in giving. The process of developing a proposal that will meet the needs of both the donor and the recipient can have hidden complexities. It needs to be compelling, realistic and fully rounded, so that the donation does not incur hidden costs, and we need to be confident we can fulfil the donors’ wishes.

Managing your donation

Lord and Lady Bearsted meet with students at the scholarships and bursaries reception; an event to highlight the important and significant impact of philanthropy at UCL.

The process of accepting a philanthropic gift can also have multiple layers; UCL policy states that gifts over £10,000 must be processed through OVPD and has a gift agreement in place. We are also happy to process or advise on gifts below that. I want to stress that OVPD does not take or redirect any slice of this funding – the entirety of the donation is passed through to you. There are a number of ways to ensure that a donation makes the most difference, such as GiftAid in the UK. There are also tax efficient giving opportunities in place in the US, Canada and Hong Kong too, see our giving page for more information.

Engaging with alumni

Developing and strengthening our worldwide community of alumni is also a highly important part of what OVPD does. Again, partnership with people and departments across UCL is crucial. An engaged alumni community is one of the most valuable assets a university can have.

The range of events and opportunities we offer alumni is varied and their number growing. I was with Susan Collins, Slade Professor and Director of the Slade School of Fine Art at an alumni event in New York this week to celebrate the opening of an exhibition at the Met Breuer Museum.  The exhibition features the auto-icon of Jeremy Bentham at its heart and was a wonderful opportunity to meet alumni old and new, and some of the volunteers of the UCL Friends and Alumni Association.

So far we have secured over 90,000 alumni volunteer hours towards the Campaign target of 250,000 hours.  UCL alumni can find inspiring volunteering opportunities and access professional development resources on our Alumni Online Community portal. These brilliant individuals may well want to give financially, but there are many other ways in which they can support us – by acting as advocates, supporting current students and recent graduates with mentoring and internships, volunteering within alumni clubs in their area, and many more. Many faculties and departments at UCL have fabulous alumni programmes in place; if you would like to explore how you can start or develop alumni activity in your area, please do contact us.

Sign up for regular updates

My office now produces a regular newsletter, sharing highlights of our activities and Campaign updates as well as tips and learnings from successful fundraising projects. We’d love to keep in touch with you and let you know how you can get involved with the Campaign, so please do email campaign@ucl.ac.uk with your full name, job title and UPI (on the bottom left hand corner of your staff card).

Philanthropy is exciting because it can do things and reach places that other funding streams simply can’t manage. UCL is increasingly on the radar of the world’s great global philanthropists who are looking for partners with whom they can pursue their ethos of “change not charity”. By working together we can offer them not just an unbeatable opportunity to make transformational change in the world but also an unbeatable donor experience; the two combined will position UCL as one of the preeminent partners for philanthropy on the international stage.

You can see more information about how to work with us on our website.

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

NSS and preparing for subject-level TEF

By ucypasm, on 6 February 2018

The National Student Survey (NSS) – the annual survey of all undergraduate students in their final year of study – is now open and we are actively encouraging all eligible students to complete it.

The NSS has been with us since 2006 and it has become the single most persuasive driver for education change in UK universities. The feedback we get from our students completing the NSS is enormously valuable. While it doesn’t tell the whole story of what is happening across UCL, NSS scores and comments are the most listened-to voice of our undergraduate students. They help us to prioritise investment in the people, systems and facilities we need to improve their education. Read the rest of this entry »