UCL East student experience
Global top-ten university UCL is heading east, opening a new flagship campus in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford. Dubbed ‘the campus of the future’, UCL describes the site as its biggest development in 200 years. UCL East is focused around two buildings – Pool Street, which opened in September 2022, and Marshgate, opening a year later.
As a founding partner of London’s East Bank regeneration programme, UCL’s new campus is set to be a multi-disciplinary melting pot of learning, research and public access. Subjects encompass ecology, robotics, urbanism, culture, disability and heritage. The buildings include a lecture theatre doubling as a cinema, plus a shop, café and homes for 500+ students. Courses are delivered collaboratively by UCL faculties and other specialist institutions such as the London College of Fashion. It’s a revolutionary approach that breaks down traditional barriers between teaching and research, and different academic disciplines.
This radical shift from the traditional university experience is an exciting opportunity for UCL to set a new path for Higher Education, and is not without its challenges.
At a very practical level, how can campus- users access real world programme support? In UCL’s established Bloomsbury Campus each department has its own home building. Their autonomous nature means that the service style varies considerably from faculty to faculty. Departments do not have physical homes in this way in the new campus, and so although Marshgate’s design includes a general administrative support hub there was no clear plan for on-site programme support.
This presented a double challenge: how to create that focused, physical space where none exists, and how to build a new exemplar that unites all subjects and people? UCL asked Social Origin to help them set a plan for success, starting with a Discovery Process.
Time was of the essence with this exciting project so close to first-phase launch in autumn 2022, thanks to Covid-induced delays. We worked with UCL to define and support an initial Discovery Process over just four months between March and June 2022.
With our support they took our recommended questions out to stakeholder interviews from all UCL East departments. We synthesised their findings across years and programmes, and from this drew up a practical user journey for the student programme support experience, allowing flexibility as the university and its numbers grow over the coming years.
One great asset available to us was the UCL Institute of Education student helpdesk in UCL’s Bedford Way building. Their experience of providing a unified helpdesk gave us valuable inspiration for an effective model of multi-departmental student support.
These inputs allowed us to draw up a draft design for the Student Hub, which we tested with teaching administrators at a workshop in June. This and the resultant rapid, iterative process of design with stakeholders allowed UCL to open a micro-hub for Postgraduate students in autumn 2022.
Meanwhile we worked on detailed proposals for a two-year pilot of the full support offer at Marshgate from its launch in September 2023. These proposals include a vision of the service and its outcomes, practical considerations about how people, technology and process will combine to launch and operate the hub, physical space planning and design principles to enhance the student experience, and a step- by-step plan for the pilot.
The new Pool Street building contained a prototype Student Hub for postgraduate students when it opened in September 2022, providing a single place where students could find support from the staff located there. Pending approval, the Student Hub at Marshgate is intended to be run as a pilot for a year, with a breakpoint scheduled to allow the services to be adapted, stopped or continued if required.
The pilot solution only required a small amount of additional funding to deliver but is expected to create a measurable improvement in student experience. Based on the our Discovery process, the project team felt confident the needs of the student community will be met, whilst also creating space to trial a new innovative approach of inter-departmental working.
Social Origin helped untangle what felt like a complicated situation through a clear systematic approach, focused on user experience and outcomes. The resulting approach is clearly articulated and meaningful for a range of stakeholders, supported by an excellent engagement pack that has helped me take the proposal forward.Helen Fisher, Director of Operations (UCL East Campus)