As students enjoyed a break over the summer, work continued apace on UCL’s new campus in Stratford, East London — six miles from Bloomsbury. Located on the site of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, within the broader ‘Olympicopolis’ development, the complex will cost £280m to build and will offer a host of new, ‘multidisciplinary’ courses. University management estimates ‘UCL East’ will have around 3000–4000 students five years after opening.
This is the second attempt management have made to expand out east. (CG 35) An earlier plan to build on the Carpenters Estate in Newham — near to the Olympic Park — collapsed in March 2013 under strong opposition from local residents, many of whom would have been forced from their homes by the development.
Undeterred, UCL administrators pressed on, turning their gaze towards Olympicopolis. In early 2016, UCL Provost Professor Michael Arthur concluded a £280m loan from the European Investment Bank for the construction (the largest such loan the EIB has ever extended to a university). But Prof. Arthur has since run the gauntlet of internal opposition.
Shortly before last Christmas, news broke of an imminent motion of no confidence in management from the Academic Board. An anonymous collective of rebel academics, styling themselves Save UCL (Again!), appeared to be leading the rebellious dons. Their complaints covered several issues — but centred upon a perceived fiscal inadequacy in the plans for UCL East. The group accused UCL management of forcing departments to run an excessive surplus to pay off the £280m loan from the EIB.
But this is not to suggest that teaching staff universally oppose the new campus, and the degree programmes that will be taught there. When management solicited proposals for the new interdisciplinary courses, they received more submissions than there were available slots — hardly a sign of academics rejecting UCL East.
Speaking to The Cheese Grater, a senior lecturer in the SHS faculty hailed UCL East as a “good idea, [and] brilliant opportunity”, but was warier about its execution. Even those who are supportive resent the continuously-changing deadlines, the moving goal posts, and the financial pressure under which UCL is placed by the whole enterprise.
In Stratford, construction will soon be underway. The first teaching there is set to begin in 2018.