This CTP relates to the codification of the Institute’s work and importance within the long-term strategy documents of the host institute, in late 2015. This happened at a time when the host university was planning extensive growth, expanding out from its central city location into new sites in East London. In December 2014, the university announced its plans to expand its campus to Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, forming part of a wider education and cultural quarter, a project supported by the UK government. The new campus is intended to be a home for new university activities, and service as a model for a future university campus: “Open, dynamic, and overcoming the conventional barriers between research, education, innovation, public engagement, and collaboration”. The campus will cover 11 acres, with the first facilities intended to open during the 2019/20 academic year. This campus is intended to facilitate the university’s 20-year strategy as laid out in a large document, developed by the provost. The Institute has been written into this document as it exemplifies the type of interdisciplinary work and practice which the university wants to achieve in terms of being: “…cross-faculty, cross-discipline – I don’t want to say interdisciplinary, but multi-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary. That’s exactly what we represent for the university, something that represents something that brings donors round, that other universities will come and see and want to play with. When UCL gets its new space at Olympic Park, people have pointed at us and said, if we can do that it’ll be great. That’s where the model to expand comes from”. Built into the expansion is the possibility that the Institute will also be able to expand into a second site, allowing it to reconsider its membership model.
This CTP was co-produced by the expansion of the host university into the East London site, and the concurrent intention for this campus to facilitate the delivery of the university’s 20-year strategy. The CTP was also sparked by the championing of the Institute by senior academics. As described in other CTPs, the drive to bring the Institute into UCL was facilitated by the then Dean of Engineering. Over the course of its tenure at the university, other senior staff also became convinced of the Institute’s value to their own departments: “The new Dean [of Engineering] is totally on side and sees what [we] provide. It’s the same with the Provosts – we’ve had 2 in our time, both of them have seen the impact, both know what it [the Institute] does. Deans of other departments have seen from the bottom up what we’ve been doing”. The shifting models of higher education in terms of research and student recruitment have also shaped this CTP. 70% of Institute members are students, and the co-founders describe how many of these continue for the longer term – for example, PhD students who hold membership for 6 years, before taking a further position at UCL as a member of staff; or undergraduates who “come back to do their Masters degrees at UCL, where part of the motivation has been being a part of this space”. In this light, the Institute is now seen as “part of the student experience, we’re something you do when you get here. Free wifi isn’t going to cut it any more”. Finally, this CTP has been shaped by shifting models of higher education and the ‘future of research’, and the effect of the Institute on research within the university: “Our impact on research has been really high – people now apply for grants and projects that they wouldn’t have done before, and that they wouldn’t even have been able to do before; and now they have a space to do it in. It’s something clear to point to.”
This CTP was co-produced by the expansion of the host university; the success of the Institute in creating new forms of interdisciplinary research; and the championing of the institute by senior academics.
There appears to have been little tension or conflict around this CTP – instead, it represents the alignment of the Institute’s own transformational aims with those of the wider university.
The move to Olympic Park was part of a wider university strategy that had been developed beyond the leadership of the Institute. One unexpected aspect of the move was it that it potentially allowed to the Institute the opportunity to expand and test new membership models. As described in other CTPs, the Institute had always intentionally limited membership to existing members of UCL, whether staff or faculty. A new larger space afforded more possibilities to extend membership out, creating a more long-standing sense of community and practice. As one of the co-founders described: “You do realize what this might mean for us, now that we’re facing the opportunity to have a second space which is up to 10 times bigger than what we have here now? We could offer alumni membership, or maybe even limited public membership too. It means people who are really engaged would still have the opportunity to be members”. As the strategy is yet to be implemented, or the move take place, it is difficult to ascertain what long-term impact it will have, or what would have happened in its absence.
This CTP both facilitates and recognizes one core transformational aim of the Institute, in creating new interdisciplinary models of academic work which are not bound by disciplinary silos or forms of practice which have developed over the 5 years of the Institute’s operations within the university. In doing so, this CTP has legitimized these practices which continue to be on the edge of wider higher education models: “We sit at the heart of what UCL wants to offer its students, and as a model of working. At the heart of [UCL’s] respectability is a radical edge – people saying, ‘You’re not producing research papers, you’re producing objects’. We’re challenging certain things around the culture of education. We’ve been doing it for long enough now that we’ve got a momentum – people see us and point to us. Once we got here, people got on board. There’ll always be some people for whom we’re not relevant.” As indicated above, this CTP was intended to signal to other higher education institutes what they might learn from the Institute’s work; whilst also drawing on the research networks which the Institute had built over the course of its work: “They’re not our [research] projects, but we’re a platform and a home for new type of project to be born. Other things are our research, but to some extend it doesn’t matter either way. The culture is bred here. We have an EU grant that we’re really involved in delivering on the one hand, and other projects where we just offer support for a certain type of making”. This CTP happened as part of a wider timeline inasmuch as it represented the accumulation of the Institute’s work over several years; and its forthcoming role in the future of the university over the coming 2 decades.
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