UCL is spending over £1 million pounds on short term solutions in an attempt to solve the College’s impending facilities crisis. Solutions range from booking expensive external rooms, stealing space from halls and building a lecture theatre in the Quad.
Student numbers have almost doubled in the past 5 years but teaching space has not kept pace. Even the spaces that UCL has added, such as the Institute of Education, are not being “utilised efficiently”, admitted David Everett, manager of room bookings.
This has been a source of intense frustration for UCL lecturers, who struggle to book suitable rooms for their classes. One Neuroscience professor told us a typical example of how she was allocated the Birkbeck computer room with no whiteboard, despite requesting a room with desks and a whiteboard. After calling up no less than 9 times, her class of 70 was finally reallocated…to the 900 seater Logan Hall.
In fact there are only 4 teaching spaces that can hold over 250 people, down from 5 last year after Birkbeck took back sole use of Claw Theatre that UCL had previously shared. Logan Hall, UCL largest lecture theatre is currently unable to be used for lectures and events requiring wheelchair access due to a broken elevator, contravening fire safety regulations.This has led to the cancellation of events such as UCLU’s Annual Welcome Meeting, which was cancelled two times.
UCL heavily relies on these four large lecture theatres. They have a 90% average occupancy rate during the term, with the Christopher Ingold Auditorium boasting a 98% occupancy rate.
Pay as you go
In order to lessen the burden on these rooms, UCL is forced to hire out 20 external rooms on a pay as you go basis. Despite refusing to release the full costs these rooms entail, sources have told Cheese Grater that the number is eye-watering, numbering “in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.” Indeed, one of the smaller spaces that UCL regularly hires out is the Indian YMCA, located a 7 minute walk from campus, which costs £350 an hour.
Not only are these external spaces costly, they often do not come with the correct facilities. Often they lack desks, whiteboards and internet facilities. As one Physics student remarked, “if you’ve ever tried to do quantum mechanics on a flipboard, you know that’s a problem.”
Furthermore, the ad-hoc locations of these spaces means students often have to spend up to 20 minutes walking between lectures, eating into teaching time. One student we talked to told us that, out of his nine lectures per week, only one of those took place on campus.
Short term ‘Solutions’
UCL’s proposals to solve the crisis range from the costly to the ludicrous. The most visible proposal will be a new lecture theatre erected in the quad, costing £500,000 a year. It will be a temporary structure, comparable to the ‘pop-up learning hub’ currently situated outside the Print Room Café.
Later this year the Maurice Wilkins Garden Room will be replaced by permanent study space, prompting accusations from societies, most notably Drama Society who used the room for rehearsals, that management do not care about their needs.
Other plans include opening up a further 91 study spaces at the Institute of Child Health, a 15-minute walk from campus, and making the North and South cloisters, quote, “less echoey”. UCL wants to eat into Accommodation Halls space as well by repurposing John Adams Halls’ common room into teaching space, taking away valuable space from students who pay up to £217 a week to live there.
In the longer term, IOE will be ‘restacked’ so that it can be better utilised to suit students’ needs. Lecture theatres in IOE will be refurbished and reorganised and a new extension will be built on the postage stamp area of grass between SOAS and IOE.
Most hopes on solving the crisis in the long-term rest on the completion UCL’s projected East campus, predicted to be in use by the 2019/20 academic year. However, there are still doubts over the funding of this project (see CG Freshers issue).
Room booking cock-ups
Whilst UCL room bookings are done by a computer programme, all society events are programmed manually. This means that four staff members are tasked with entering and organising up to 7000 events over the year.
As a result, societies are often told of the result of their room requests a mere hour before the event is meant to take place and double bookings are common. Even the sabbatical officers are not immune. They were forced to host the launch of their Mental Health campaign, Head’s Up, in the cloisters. In a more humorous example, Drama Society were double booked with Life Drawing, resulting in Drama Society walking in unexpectedly on a man wearing nothing but the skin he was born in.