UAL 30 Years On – looking back and looking forward

Exactly 30 years ago, seven art and design colleges came together as the institution which later became UAL. This visionary decision ensured that they survived the radical restructuring imposed on local government in London at that time. Other art schools fell by the wayside. Our unification strengthened the colleges, and the university has become a global leader as a result.

The last year has again shown our influence. The QS World University Rankings place us in the Top 5 universities in the world for art and design. HEFCE judged UAL’s teaching to be world leading in its latest funding round, and gave us access to additional funding.

Our new research partnership with King’s College London combines our design thinking and their policy expertise in the emerging field of policy innovation. Our two-year project with the International Curators Forum will address the under-representation of curators from minority ethnic backgrounds. We curated the largest ever exhibition of European performance design, touring to cities in China.

Meanwhile, our students, alumni and staff continue to rock the world. They formed over half the designers at London Fashion Week AW16, with four colleges represented. The 2015 Turner Prize Winner was a collective that includes three UAL tutors; three out of four nominees for the Turner Prize in 2016 are UAL alumni. Amidst six Oscar nominees, alumna Jenny Beavan won an Academy Award and BAFTA for Best Costume Design for her work on Mad Max: Fury Road, which starred alumnus Tom Hardy.

And alumna Stella McCartney designed the Team GB kit for Rio 2016. But UAL has rarely operated in a more uncertain and turbulent environment than now, at our 30th anniversary as an institution.

Leaving the EU could have a profound impact on UAL in the longer-term, particularly to our research partnerships and in recruitment – we draw 15% of our students from the EU. Nevertheless, our plans will continue to be based on the conviction that knowledge and art are borderless, and will reflect our ongoing commitment to international collaboration.

At the same time, the Government’s new higher education legislation – launched at UAL – is the biggest shake-up for a generation. UAL has led a partnership with the Creative Industries Federation to ensure our sector’s voice is heard in the preparation of this legislation. The most financially significant change is the proposal to use the new Teaching Excellence Framework to determine future fee increases.

I regret to report that the Government’s manifesto commitment to promote STEM subjects at secondary school has been achieved at the expense of arts subjects.

This Summer’s GCSE entries saw a further fall of 7.7% in the uptake of creative, artistic and technical subjects, reducing the pipeline of prospective UK students into creative education. Again, we have worked with others to ensure the Government understands the impact on the creative economy.

In this context, we have further increased the involvement of college based staff in the way we run the University. Each Pro Vice-Chancellor now has an institution-wide remit.

These include the student experience, research, digital, and international strategy. And we have created a new University Operating Board which includes all Directors of College Administration.

We are now well underway with our estates plans, which will improve the learning and the social experience for students. These will put UAL at the heart of creative enterprise zones at Stratford, Elephant & Castle and Camberwell, just as we have achieved at King’s Cross. We have already topped-out at Camberwell with a new hall of residence and additional teaching space.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for Olympicopolis – final designs will be revealed later this year.

An artist’s impression of the chosen concept for the Stratford Development

I am confident that UAL will continue to meet its challenges, and deliver our strategy 2015–22, Transformative education for a creative world. While we will be tested, we can rely on our financial robustness, the direction of our strategy, and the stellar quality of our students, as we prepare for the next 30 years.

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