Why IOE and UCL have decided to merge

Chris Husbands and Michael Arthur

Higher education is changing – and at a dizzying speed. Universities now operate on a global canvas, and reputations are made (and lost) on a worldwide scale. Around the world, measures of quality – however imperfect, flawed and downright misleading they may be – drive student preferences, funders’ decision-making and government strategies. At the same time, local impact remains equally important: all universities exist in communities, but as those communities become more diverse and demanding, the pressures on universities intensify. It’s easy to despair at the pace and scale of these challenges, but adapting to change can be bracing too. New challenges bring new possibilities and new horizons. It’s against this background that after a good deal of thought and careful planning we have decided to merge the IOE and UCL, creating academic opportunities for both partners. The merger will take effect from 2 December.

About the IOE

The IOE was established at the beginning of the 20th century. Initially set up to train teachers for the rapidly developing schools of London, it was from the very beginning international in outlook. Over the next hundred years it expanded its role and remit enormously, so that at the beginning of the 21st century it is one of the UK’s leading centres not simply for education, core though that is to its mission, but for social science more generally. In 2014 it was ranked first in the world for education in the QS rankings, and was shortlisted for the Times Higher University of the Year Award. Our history has been one of bold growth. The merger with UCL now offers a rich prize: the opportunity, at a time of ever-greater interdisciplinarity, to build strong links across the full range of higher education disciplines. It provides opportunities, at a time when universities are, rightly, looking hard at the relationships with their communities to reach more deeply into London and London schools. It provides opportunities, at a time when universities need to internationalise more rapidly than ever to extend global reach. Above all, the merger will mean that the IOE can deliver more comprehensively on its mission to transform lives through education. Of course, all change involves some losses as well as gains, but the merger with UCL – which some of our near neighbours have called a ‘no-brainer’ – is the next step in the IOE’s evolution.

About UCL

UCL, as one of the world’s leading ‘comprehensive’ multi-faculty universities, enjoys an extraordinarily high level and concentration of academic excellence. UCL excels at research and at creating and delivering cross-disciplinary education at all levels. For some time we have felt that the long-term future of UCL would be well served by extending our disciplinary expertise to include education and a greater breadth within the social sciences by a close partnership, and now merger, with the IOE. We strongly believe that the world’s greatest problems, reflected in our Grand Challenges approach, will most likely be best solved by teams of researchers from many different disciplines working together. Within every potential solution to the grand challenges that the world is facing, there is the need to understand and shape human behaviours, which can of course only be achieved through a combination of education and a deep understanding, both qualitative and quantitative, of the social factors at play. The merger of UCL and the IOE now gives us a much-enhanced intellectual capacity to make great inroads into tackling such global problems even more effectively.

Focusing on the student experience

UCL will also enjoy the outstanding pedagogic expertise that the IOE will bring to the merger and that will help to underpin our ambitions in research-based education, the Connected Curriculum project and in all aspects of both blended and distance e-learning. Through these and other mechanisms there will be a strong focus on the quality of the student experience and a very tight relationship and integration of the research that we do and the education that our students receive. We envisage an inspirational student experience that will allow all to reach, or exceed, their expectations. As a combined force UCL and the IOE can be more effective in widening participation, making our merged institution more accessible to students from lower income families. We intend to do that using the wide network of collaborations with secondary education, particularly within London, that exist across both organisations.

There are several factors that we consider essential to make this merger one of the most successful that has ever occurred in UK higher education. The first is that UCL and IOE share similar values, with the principle of social justice, openness and a tendency to opt for the critical and radical approach, underpinning both organisations. The second is that it is a merger of two institutions that share similar levels of global ambition and that hold academic excellence, and the organisational autonomy necessary to create it, in very high esteem. The final factor is that we fully recognise that as we merge, the hard work is only just beginning. We have thought through the first two years of activity post-merger and already have a clear plan of what we wish to build together in both undergraduate and postgraduate education and in research. We have also planned to extend our now combined Grand Challenges programme to put greater emphasis on ‘global education’.

Finally, we recognise that the merger will only deliver outcomes at the pace and scale that we envisage if we fully support our staff and students through this period of change. No doubt there will be a few bumps along the way, but we are confident that we can learn from each other and adapt within the merged institution to create an environment that is highly creative, wonderfully productive, and enhances the academic reputation and profile of the merged UCL and IOE. We are confident that our collective community will embrace this change, engage actively, and ultimately contribute to making this merger an outstanding success.

Professor Chris Husbands is Director of the Institute of Education and Professor Michael Arthur is President & Provost, UCL

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Posted in Further higher and lifelong education
7 comments on “Why IOE and UCL have decided to merge
  1. educationstate says:

    Classic neo-liberal positivity.

    If an institution is leading the world why does it then hand over what it is good at to another?

    If it’s all about local communities, how many of that local community currently study or work at UCL?

    Will those bumps along the way include those in response to the inevitable ‘efficiencies’ that will no doubt be made to staffing?

    Will wages at both continue to fester and fees continue to rise?

    Will the IOE be rebranded AGAIN?

    And isn’t this really all about space (ie UCL needing more & the IOE having some next door) & about the IOE’s historic refusal to take on the UK government?

    A ‘no-brainer’?

  2. Chris Husbands says:

    There are any number of thngs to respond to here. But, to be as brief as possible:

    (1) This is not about space; its not about fees; its not about redundancies [we have indicated that there will be none as a result of merger)
    (2) It is about academic development: its about extending and expanding the canvas on which the IOE is able to work, working with a multi-faculty university.
    (3) Like all organisations, we seek to operate as efficiently and effectively as we can: this is not about neo-liberalism – its about the good stewardship of public money and student fee income. We want to be as efficient as we can be to meet the needs of our students, and effective as we can be to extend our influence.
    (4) We do lead the world in our discipline. The job of leadership is to make long-term decisions which ensure that that is not a passing phenomenon
    (5) As to positivity – I plead guilty. I’m positive and optimistic about the future of and for the IOE.

    • (1) “This is not about space; its not about fees; its not about redundancies [we have indicated that there will be none as a result of merger)” – it is difficult to think of a merger where there haven’t been any job losses. And is this really a merger? Given that the IOE is to be a School of UCL it feels more like an acquisition and not a merger.

      (2) “It is about academic development: its about extending and expanding the canvas on which the IOE is able to work, working with a multi-faculty university.” – Can’t, and in fact doesn’t, the IOE already work with other universities and other multi-faculty ones without merging?

      (3) “Like all organisations, we seek to operate as efficiently and effectively as we can: this is not about neo-liberalism – its about the good stewardship of public money and student fee income. We want to be as efficient as we can be to meet the needs of our students, and effective as we can be to extend our influence.” – It is not especially neoliberal to seek efficiencies and do things effectively, that’s right, but the inevitability-of-change and internationalisation narratives and the need to makes ‘positive’ changes in response to these supposed inevitabilities are textbook.

      (4) “We do lead the world in our discipline. The job of leadership is to make long-term decisions which ensure that that is not a passing phenomenon.” – Why then the merger? Staff and students from around the world have long sought out the IOE, and sought it out because it is the IOE. Is there really any danger of this reputation being a ‘passing phenomenon’ given how widespread knowledge of its expertise is?

      (5) “As to positivity – I plead guilty. I’m positive and optimistic about the future of and for the IOE.” (See above (3)).

      One thing not responded to:

      (6) “If it’s all about local communities, how many of that local community currently study or work at UCL?” – This merger/acquisition is partly to do with pressure on elite universities to demonstrate widening participation. If one university (i.e. IOE) has a broader and more locally representative student population than another (i.e. UCL) it makes sense for the latter to take on the former. That way, the latter can appear to be addressing concerns about widening participation even while no changes are made elsewhere. Is it then not that both UCL and IOE can widen participation together ‘as a combined force’ but more that UCL can continue to teach the international elite and affluent home students it already does by eating up the IOE?

      One last thing:

      (7) “UCL and IOE share similar values, with the principle of social justice, openness and a tendency to opt for the critical and radical approach, underpinning both organisations.” – Presumably. Chris, you know about ‘UCL accused of shirking moral duty to workers at Qatar campus’ (TES, 21 AUGUST 2014) and ‘UCL makes £1.7m a year from Kazakh university partnership’ (LondonStudent, October 7, 2013)?

      • You are right that I did not respond to the point about local communities. I apologise. The IOE and UCL operate in very different ways; the IOE is a 98% postgraduate institution so there is no way in which UCL would be able to use the data in the way you suggest, even assuming that it panned out in that way.

        I do know about the stories you quote on two of UCL’s international engagements. I anticipate significant change in UCL’s global engagement.

  3. Graham Holley says:

    Good luck for the challenges that lie ahead in this carefully considered merger.

  4. […] At the beginning of December 2014, two world renowned centres of academic excellence merged. The Institute of Education and University College London became one. Professor Chris Husbands, IoE director and Professor Michael Arthur, president and provost of UCL said of the merger: […]

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