Vice Provost’s View: Accessible and Publicly Engaged - update on Principal Theme 4

By Dame Nicola M Brewer, Vice-Provost (International), written on behalf of Lori Houlihan, Vice-Provost (Advancement).

It would be impossible to list the huge variety of ways in which UCL has had, is having and will have a transformative impact on individual lives and on societies around the world.

The principal themes of UCL2034 are the building blocks on which this work sits. Principal Theme 4 - Accessible and Publicly Engaged - aims to ensure that the world knows and understands how far-reaching our contributions are and that everyone, regardless of background, has an equal opportunity to be part of and benefit from them.

Responsibility for PT4 moved to the Office of the Vice-Provost (Advancement) around a year ago, and the original objectives were reviewed and condensed from eight to five, which you can see on the 2034 website.

UCL has a phenomenal reputation in the UK and globally; it enables us to compete for the best students and staff, attract leading international philanthropists as our partners and collaborate widely. Talent is the fuel on which we run and one that comes from a variety of backgrounds. Finding, enabling and empowering that talent is the thread that runs through all of the activity relating to this Principal Theme.

In common with the UK university sector as a whole, particular groups are under-represented within UCL’s undergraduate population, including students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, students from black African and black Caribbean heritage, disabled students and care leavers. White students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are particularly underrepresented. Tackling these access issues is a key objective of PT4 and a variety of projects are underway.

One example is Access UCL, a contextual offer scheme that welcomed its first cohort last month - over 200 students from under-represented groups across the UK. Students applying through this route receive both a standard offer and the Access UCL offer, a reduced offer of up to two grades that is conditional on completing the Access UCL programme before starting, which prepares students for academic study. In this way, we provide a route to UCL’s life-changing education for talented students who, for a variety of reasons, have not achieved the grades usually required but who have the ability to succeed at UCL.

Progress can sometimes feel slow but the statistics show that our access strategies are having an impact. UCL’s intake of Black British students increased from 4% in 2014/15 to 7.1% in 2018/19, while our intake from Index of Multiple Deprivation quintile 1 students - who come from postcode areas that are ranked in the bottom 20% nationally for income, health deprivation, employment, education, housing, services, and crime - has increased from 7.8% to 12.4% over the past four years. We work closely with schools and with organisations like the Sutton Trust to reach as far as possible and we can see that work moving us in the right direction.

Of course, public engagement is crucial both to UCL’s reputation and to its widening participation strategy, engaging a wide cross-section of society with what we do, the impact it has on lives and that the people who do it are diverse and relatable. UCL Culture is responsible for a huge range of this activity and, with the development of UCL East, is particularly engaged in East London. But this work is also conducted with great enthusiasm across the university - from SLASH’s Festival of Culture to the It’s All Academic Festival taking place this Saturday across UCL and much more.

This year’s It’s All Academic Festival will bring together over 60 UCL departments and more than 100 activities through the day, all designed to engage people of every age and interest with the excitement of what UCL does. It will include the Made At UCL exhibition, an exploration of the top 100 disruptive discoveries and inventions made at UCL, voted for by staff, students and alumni. Please do come on Saturday, bring your family and friends and be proud of UCL - and perhaps uncover something even you didn’t know about.

The Festival is one of the projects of the It’s All Academic Campaign to raise 600m and generate 250,000 volunteering hours for UCL, and is a key part of Principal Theme 4. Fundraising and supporter engagement is recognised as an increasingly important enabler of UCL’s excellence, and UCL is one of the UK’s most successful fundraising universities. The Campaign totals have now hit nearly 550m in funding and 200,000 volunteering hours, and we expect to hit our targets next year, a year ahead of schedule.

As we head closer to hitting the 600m target of the It’s All Academic Campaign and think about what happens next, OVPA has been consulting some of our key stakeholders on their perceptions of the success and impact of the Campaign. Amidst many positive comments, one bit of advice particularly stayed in our minds - "UCL should be prouder".

UCL has an amazing story to tell and is in many ways is already telling it creatively and strongly - the level and variety of our media coverage is one obvious measure of that. At its heart, Principal Theme 4 is about building on what we already do so well to tell UCL’s story widely, and convey our pride and excitement at what we do - to build our reputation, attract the students and staff who will flourish here, keep our alumni connected, engage philanthropists who want their funding to go to the place where it will make the greatest impact, and increase understanding of how much London, the UK and the wider world benefits from what we do. The stronger UCL’s reputation is, the more we will be able to do and the more meaningful our impact will be.


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