Issue 79 - Autumn 2021 cheesegratermagazine.org facebook.com/uclcheesegrater Are things really back to normal? Was COVID even real? Find out by flipping through our latest Autumn issue.
2 Autumn 2021 The Cheese Grater
News & Investigations
The Past, Present and Future of Strike Action “Do you think your working conditions are adequate?” “No! I’m sending this email at 23:59.” Emilija Deveikyte and Rusheen Bansal In February 2018, Jason Murugesu and Peter Fitzsimons wrote in The Cheese Grater, “a battle is raging at UCL, one that will define the very nature of the university for the decades to come.” Two and a half years later, this statement resonates deeply with the current tense climate at UCL. As the university finds itself in a state of constant transition, seen most clearly in the recent progression towards blended learning, there remains an ever-present, static issue: the pension, pay and working conditions of its teaching staff. Since 2018, three bouts of university staff strike action have come and gone, with a fourth one on the horizon. UCL-UCU ballots from October 2021, that had a turnout of 50.1%, have revealed that 73.7% voted for strike action and 87.4% for action short of strike. With little to no change in university policies, but financial and educational losses worth thousands of pounds incurred by students and staff, the question remains: why hasn’t UCL done more to prevent another strike? Issues at stake The ongoing disputes centre around four focal issues: pension fund cuts, inadequate working conditions, university staff pay cuts, and a persisting wage gap. In August 2021, employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to push ahead with a proposal to cut thousands of pounds from university staff retirement benefits. In a recent interview with The Cheese Grater, Sean Wallis, president of UCL’s University & College Union (UCU) branch, described this act as an ‘attack on the next generation of academics.’ If ‘nothing changes’, he contends, then as of March next year, ‘the pension
scheme that they are enrolled in will be worth 30-40% less.’ Moreover, pay for university staff across the country fell by 20% between 2009 and 2019. According to Wallis, this paired with the pension cuts constitutes a battle for a sustainable future of higher education: ‘if we want to keep people in university research and teaching, who are not worried about where their next paycheck is going to come from, then we have to have decent salaries, paychecks and pension schemes. This isn’t about us now, it is about having a sector that attracts young people.’ Although the decision to cut retirement benefits is a recent one, there remain a number of seemingly perpetual problems. A professor from SSEES believes that UCL is yet to take ‘meaningful action’ towards the ‘racism, sexism, classism and homophobia pervasive in the institution’. Sean Wallis noted that a breakdown of UCL’s annual Gender and Ethnicity Pay Report points to the existence of a series of ‘glass ceilings’ within the institution - ‘the data can, on a grade by grade basis, look like women have got better salaries on support roles than men. But if you look at what is happening structurally, the problem is that many women who have been here a long time are stuck in lower-graded roles without being promoted.’ The 2021 Pay Report explains that on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest pay grade) ‘the proportion of female staff reduces above grade 5, and this is the predominant reason for the mean and median gap [in pay].’ Similarly, the mean ethnicity wage gap has remained stuck between 13.1-13.5% for the last four years despite various BAME empowerment initiatives launched by UCL. Wallis believes ‘UCL can
do more’ to fix these issues, the first step being improving job security and promotion prospects across all grades. Indeed, a national 2020 report by the UCU revealed that 6500 university lecturers across the UK were employed on zero-hour contracts, while 68,845 did not have secure contracts. Zerohour contracts are casual contracts that do not have a minimum number of hours and can be terminated at any time; they have been reported to worsen mental health and disproportionately target BAME groups. For academic staff, unstable contracts like these come with the threat of receiving no holiday pay, or worse, losing their jobs at the end of the academic year. Closely connected to the issue of casualisation is the bulking of workloads, which is a result of an overall exponential increase in the intake of students at UCL over the last 10 years, altogether contributing to the inadequate working conditions described by staff. Consequently, many professors experience a lack of deliberate engagement with their students. Dr Allen Abramson, from the department of Anthropology, explains why: “Workloads are growing, administrative duties are multiplying and there is less time to research. What this amounts to is an inability by staff to fully discharge all of their duties, to be as creative and imaginative as they ought to be, and to blend research into teaching in ways that really enliven students’ degrees.” As a result of these heightened workloads, students find themselves directly disserviced, often receiving lower quality of education due to the
News & Investigations
‘rushing’ of tasks. Sean Wallis describes it best: ‘what happens is that you have more marking for more students, but you don’t necessarily get an increase in your hours as a result to do that, which inevitably puts a lot more pressure on staff in terms of rushing.’ What has happened so far? ‘We have actually worked quite well with UCL locally after the last dispute’, says Wallis. Prior to the industrial action, UCL postgraduate teaching assistants (PGTAs) used to be on casual contracts, and there still remains a pressure to reintroduce certain amounts of casualisation around PGTAs. ‘To be fair to UCL, they have worked with us, and we have got a postgraduate code of practice. But we want to make sure that that sticks and that it’s workable’, Wallis adds. In addition to an agreement surrounding casual contracts, the strikes also resulted in UCL increasing the average staff pay by approximately 3.3%. These are victories that are borne out of ‘collective action’, as Wallis describes it, but issues remain, and staff are put in a position where their only ‘weapon is to withdraw [their] labour, to stop what [they] are doing’. How have students been affected? In this fight between the university management and the staff, students suffered significant losses – in 2018 alone, more than a million students were impacted across the UK. The number increased significantly after the 2019 and 2020 strike action. However, the intersection of staff satisfaction and quality of education received by students is often overlooked. A professor from the Department of Education, Practice and Society, reminded us that “students are losing out in the current system, not just because they pay exorbitant fees – especially if they are overseas students and are saddled with debt, but because nobody benefits from being taught by staff who are exhausted, overworked, and anxious about their job security.”
The Cheese Grater Autumn 2021 3
On one hand, while picketing restricted access to UCL buildings, delivery of teaching and cutting-edge research, it also represented staff solidarity in seeking an equitable present and a secure future. However, the experience of strikes was far from glorious. Dr Michal Murawski from SSEES reflected on some of the difficulties faced during picketing, “people get stressed and ill standing out on picket lines, pay is docked, students get upset, conflict with colleagues arise.” By the same token, professors were disheartened to watch their students suffer. Dr Stuart Tannock, of the UCL Institute Of Education, noted, “I love teaching and working with students at UCL, and I am deeply frustrated that the modules that I have created and run have so often had to be disrupted by collective strike action. However, I will vote again to strike, and I will do daily picket line duty again this year if this is needed.” Furthermore, other arrangements were made to replicate the intellectual atmosphere in university classrooms -- Dr Murawski highlighted the organisation of “a wealth of successful teach-outs, singouts and other events on the picket line” -- that benefited students and staff alike. “It has been fantastic to see the level of student support for past strikes – but this support cannot be taken for granted,” advises Dr Ben Noble, SSEES, in response to UCL’s scant academic and financial compensation. When asked about UCL’s compensation for the contact hours lost, Steven (pseudonym), a 2021 alum, shared that instead of providing catch-up lectures or seminars, UCL simply removed the missed content from the assessments. However, a PPE student contended that ‘if UCL’s attempt to compensate for lost contact hours was by asking teaching staff to do the work they decided not to do during the strikes, I
would not be comfortable with that’. As a recompense, UCL also set up a Learning Opportunities Fund in January 2020, payable up to £250, to enable students to purchase extra resources for self-teaching. This fund was financed by the salaries withheld from staff for every day of strike action. Several students (who were interviewed but wish to remain anonymous) argued that the monetary amount was not enough, considering that approximately, on average, 8800 teaching hours were lost during each bout of strike action. Similarly, tuition refunds were limited to a few hundred pounds. Hundreds of students applied and were granted a portion of their fee back. However, because UCL did not allow anonymous applications, numerous students felt discouraged to apply in fear of their coursework grading being negatively impacted. Additionally, the process seemed unclear and convoluted to many. Steven recounted his experience: “there are so many loopholes and lines of bureaucracy you have to get through to even register a [refund] complaint that it was just not worth it given the amount of work I had to do teaching myself the things that I missed because of the strike.” After two years of strike action, the pandemic rolled around. Another year of disrupted learning made university students, especially international students, feel cheated by the steep tuition. Circumstances beyond their control dominated their time at university, a transient experience for most students. Hence, with three years of lost contact hours came a debilitating knowledge gap and crippling student debt. Will there be more strikes? “We do not like to do it, we do not want to do it; we do however have to
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Additional reporting by Loris Moraiti and Ludovica Ardente.
British universities are in the midst of a transformation. Higher education institutions are competing, like enterprises in consumer markets, to maintain and increase their positions in world rankings. At UCL, misguided policy encouraging endless expansion prioritises reputation over quality of education. This commercialised mindset perpetuates a cycle of expansion that, if not controlled, can jeopardise the welfare of its staff and students, ironically damaging the very reputation UCL is trying to polish. The ‘International Facilities Arms Race’ In recent years, the government has catalysed the liberalisation of higher education, substituting a welfare-based system for one that more resembles a market. It has fomented this
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Change in Student Numbers in Large Universities 2014-2019
If I asked you which Harry Potter book reminded you most of EFS, you might be tempted to say the Deathly Hallows. But, in light of recent events, I would posit the Chamber of Secrets as a more appropriate option. Wily as I am, even Soc Bitch couldn’t get a squeak out of those finance-obsessed conspirators. While the President has been accused of all number of sins, and the society seems to be barrelling towards a formal hearing, they’ve succeeded where
Matt Hancock could not in keeping the scandal impressively under wraps. Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise: whistleblowing and banking aren’t the most natural of bedfellows. Best just to listen to Mr Boss and wait until it all settles down. In the meantime, the SU held the much-anticipated and definitelynot-ignored Rep Elections. Notable mentions for voter turnout go to Stage Crew Society, who nobly put down their lights and (smoke?) to cast their vote, to Dodgeball Club, who took a much-needed break from dodging balls, and to Marxist Society, who… sorry, remind me again what they actually do? Top department turnout rightly went to Greek and Latin, who re-pledged their enduring allegiance to democracy.
Race to the Bottom: UCL’s Commercialisation Comes at a Cost Alfred Pannell
News & Investigations
commercialisation through a range of policies: the tripling of tuition fees in 2012, the removal of a cap on student numbers in 2015, and funding cuts to institutions. For universities, this top-down endorsement of commercialisation created a vital opportunity. They could now begin to compete more substantially in the so-called “international facilities arms race” that sees global institutions battling to rank higher than each other. Indeed, the international relevance of British universities has long been challenged by the nascent threat of cash-flush Asian institutions and the waning allure of age-based prestige. Thus, with greater tuition costs per pupil and the ability to enroll more feepayers overall, universities subscribed to a business model of increasing revenue and investing it in facilities
that would maintain their relevance on the international market. Much of this scramble to expand has focused on overseas fee-payers, who sometimes cough up more than three times the tuition of their counterparts. The graph (see next page) reflects universities’ recent trend of student body expansion, comparing the change in enrollment from 2014 to 2019 among the largest institutions in the UK. UCL’s Expansion While growth was the overwhelming trend observed above, UCL displayed the most remarkable increase in student enrollment of nearly 40%. Indeed, from 2010 to 2020, the number of full time students at UCL nearly doubled, growing by a staggering 20,500. The most recent available figures count
Change in enrolment from 2014 to 2019 (%)
be able to afford to do the jobs that we love,” states Professor Richard Pettinger from UCL School of Management. As UCU ballots have revealed, it is likely that UCL will not be alone in calling for strikes -- the University of Liverpool already undertook strike action in August 2021. Evidently, staff at UCL do not seem convinced by the minor changes made by the university since the first strike in 2018. As the threat of another strike looms, it is difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook regarding the students. In fact, the UCL Students’ Union has opposed further strike action, claiming that “at this time, strikes will only serve to damage students more”. Yet, while students may get the short end of the stick in the immediate present, it seems that everyone will be better off in the long run.
News & Investigations
Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency
40 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 -5
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UCL’s enrollment at almost 44,000, making it the highest in the UK after the Open University, an online institution. In a recent interview with the Guardian, the new Provost, Michael Spence, explained UCL’s expansion. He claimed that “there is no course at UCL where the undergraduate fee covers the cost of providing the course… So we’re already supporting the education of British undergraduates with both international student and postgraduate student fees.” Thus, according to Spence, the increased enrolment of high fee payers is used to fund UCL courses. Indeed, it is true that overseas tuition is far more lucrative than home fees; in the academic year of 2019 to 2020, it constituted 23% of UCL’s revenue while the income from the more numerous UK and EU students was just over half that share. Spence also stated in an interview with The Cheese Grater earlier this year that “we don’t have a big endowment, so we are a university which is, in large part, funded by student fees.” The Provost thus appears to indicate that UCL’s dependence on enrolment as a
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expansion, a key characteristic of commercialised higher education, has prevailed at UCL. In 2016, it took out a loan of £280m, the largest in British university history, to finance a £1.25bn infrastructure project - the biggest since UCL’s birth. In addition to borrowing, the university planned to use philanthropic donations and reserves to pay for its new facilities. This included provisions for the new Student Centre as well as the flashy new campus: UCL East.
Financially, the project appears UCL’s dependence on enrolment as a manageable - the university is fortunate revenue source is due to the limited size enough to be the recipient of the of its endowment. benevolence of banks who seem to align with its commercialised vision for However, the reason for UCL’s UCL. Indeed, the university’s overall tuition-based funding model appears financial position is not concerning to be more circuitous; its participation as its assets - think giant buildings in in the ‘international facilities arms race’ the centre of London - far outweigh its and subsequent commercialisation liabilities. emerge as the culprits. However, on top of the original loan, UCL’s endowment has indeed UCL issued £300 million of bonds in slendered in recent years: government June of this year, further entrenching funding for universities has waned its debts. While the reason for this in the past decade, with per pupil fundraising was not specified, it reflects a provisions falling by 5% between 2012 cash-thirst that may explain inadequate and 2019. Yet, in the same period, funding in many sectors across UCL. according to its financial statements, For example, the amount UCL spends UCL’s revenue per student dropped by on Academic Departments per pupil a considerably greater 15%. has notably decreased by 23.6% from 2012 to 2019 (after adjusting for The gargantuan expansion of the inflation). student body has watered down income per pupil from non-fee sources. Interestingly, according to a former Indeed, revenue per student from the professor at UCL, departments next largest income categories, research are directly responsible for setting grants and funding body grants, admissions targets. He explained that dropped by 23% and 48%, respectively, departments’ “expenses rise constantly from 2012 to 2019. Quite simply, with because of inflation, while home fees twice as many students, there is far less have remained the same for years. to go around. And… well, it is possible that they have been trying to gain more money Furthermore, exorbitant facilities through international students. Yes, I expansion, a key characteristic of think that may well be the case.”
Contributors to this issue: Alfred Pannell, Anna Maria Papaoikonomou, Anushka Barthwal, Ella Ticktin-Smith, Emilija Deveikyte, Grace Watts, Lily Peng, Loris Moraiti, Ludovica Ardente, Nina Todres, Rob Davidson, Ronan Parker-Moore, Rusheen Bansal, Tania Tang, and Zhenya Robinson
6 Autumn 2021 The Cheese Grater Thus, the per capita cuts that have hit departments, largely due to the expansion of both enrollment and facilities, appears to have further stimulated the intake of new students, prompting the construction of new buildings to accommodate them and thus initiating a self-perpetuating cycle. While overseas fees may now be necessary to pay for undergraduate courses, this appears to be a result of UCL’s prioritisation of its international reputation over the day-to-day operations of its departments. Impact on Students Beyond departments, key student services have been hit by UCL’s commercial emphasis on reputation. This fiscal strain is evident in percapita funding cuts for many sectors at the university. In the period from 2012-2019 - using available data and excluding 2020 due to Covid - real spending per capita fell for residences and catering, premises, and academic services. While overall spending rose, the growing number of students has meant resources are more sparsely distributed. It should be noted that in the same period, the Provost’s pay has increased by over 5% and funding for the Administration and Central Services has increased by 27.2%. Today, multiple pupils in UCL’s community have expressed a feeling of neglect by their university. One overseas student, who is paying £28,500 annually, told The Cheese Grater, “with the fees I’m paying, I feel like I’m only attending lectures and receiving assignments with no other support or guidance.” Laura Maurin, a Law student, expressed similar sentiments to several others about the online learning that dominated last year’s instruction, “[it] was basically self taught - watching videos at home and learning about law
by reading books with no academic support or help whilst still getting marked extremely harshly on exams was not worth £9250”. For some, the struggles of online learning have permeated into this academic year. One student said, “Classes were advertised as being blended learning, but some of my modules are entirely online, and the vast majority of teaching is online. Class sizes have almost doubled since last year in some classes. The inflation of class size and false advertisement of courses give the impression that the university has messed up majorly, or is just prioritising profit at the expense of its students’ quality of education and wellbeing.” Evidently, the growing number of students is straining both resources and the attention given to individuals. Furthermore, welfare complaints about the waiting time for mental health support and poor disability measures (see Voices) seem to abound. While many students voice criticisms of the university, not all have grievances. Joel Mitchell, a second year Medical student, praised “easy access to teaching, pastoral and social support” and felt that the “amount of time spent by staff on tailoring to each individual student is visible.” Although not all students are dissatisfied, there are clear patterns of common grievances related to a lack of academic and welfare support, the challenges of online learning, growing class sizes, and general disorganisation. It is no wonder many students question why they pay £9,250 for tuition, let alone the astonishing £28,500 fees for some overseas pupils. Furthermore, UCL’s apparent reliance on students’ tuition to maintain its reputation but its failure to provide them with adequate services should cause outrage.
News & Investigations Staff Concerns While some students blame teaching staff for their academic frustrations, they too appear to be victims of UCL’s commercialisation. The per-capita cuts to departments and academic services seem to have had far-reaching effects. Dr. Allen Abramson, a senior lecturer at the Department of Anthropology, felt that the changes at UCL have created additional pressure for staff. “I feel that the transformation of students into a body of paying consumers has fuelled understandable pressure to deliver and administer teaching to the highest standards, but at the same time as having to pursue contractual research commitments.” The detrimental effects of UCL’s commercialisation also appear to take a toll on staff welfare. Richard Pettinger of the School of Management, complained of the congestion and overcrowding caused by the drastic increase in students. “We do not have proper working conditions, or social conditions. Before the COVID crisis, we were all being packed as tightly as possible into the facilities at Bloomsbury. The rooms in many cases were inadequate for effective teaching and learning, and the crowding of facilities such as the coffee bars, sandwich bar, social spaces and open spaces was becoming a very serious problem.” Consequently, he welcomed new facilities such as UCL East as a much needed reprieve from the congestion in Bloomsbury, and encouraged more long-term investment across the whole of the UCL estate. It seems that, ironically, further commercialisation and facilities expansion has become a necessity to cope with the strains of student intake. The cycle of growth and commercialisation thus appears bound to continue.
News & Investigations the crowding of facilities such as the coffee bars, sandwich bar, social spaces and open spaces was becoming a very serious problem.” Consequently, he welcomed new facilities such as UCL East as a much needed reprieve from the congestion in Bloomsbury, and encouraged more long-term investment across the whole of the UCL estate. It seems that, ironically, further commercialisation and facilities expansion has become a necessity to cope with the strains of student intake. The cycle of growth and commercialisation thus appears bound to continue. However, a university spokesperson decidedly disagrees. In response to the article, they said: “UCL is currently in the process of listening to its diverse community of students, staff, alumni and partners, who have all been asked to help shape our vision, mission, values, and priorities by feeding into the UCL strategic plan 2022-27 consultation. Launched on Monday 1 November, the public consultation includes topics such as UCL’s size and shape, as well as education priorities and programmes and opportunities for targeted investment.” UCL’s “consultation” will undoubtedly constitute a test of the university’s flexibility and willingness to evolve past the current trend of commercialisation.
The Cheese Grater Autumn 2021 7 However, it may come too late as many staff are considering strike action, stirred by the detrimental effects of UCL’s reckless expansion on working conditions, (see page 2 for in-depth coverage). Rankings So, has commercialisation paid off for the university on a superficial basis have its rankings reflected the costly investment in its brand at the expense of staff and students? In 2012, the year the government tripled tuition fees, UCL ranked 17th in the Times Higher Education world rankings. Almost ten years later, with tens of thousands of new students and hundreds of millions of pounds invested in new facilities, it stands at 18th. In rankings from other bodies, the story is the same. In 2012, QS World Rankings put UCL in fourth place while the latest rankings see it in eighth position.
Empowered by the corporatising policies of the Conservative government, UCL, along with other UK universities, saw an opportunity to cement its reputation worldwide. By chasing rankings through exorbitant facilities development, funded by exceptionally high enrolment and bank loans, the university unwittingly entered a self-destructive cycle of endless expansion. Not only did its costly investments dampen funding for other sectors, but the resulting financial woes of academic departments forced them to take in more students to stay afloat. Ironically, fresh fees neither sufficiently funded the university nor improved UCL’s rank. Instead, the policy of endless growth resulted in the university sleepwalking into a race to the bottom; caught up in the superficialities of international prestige, UCL blindly allowed staff and students to suffer. Now, it appears that the very root of the problem will be seen as the solution to the current crisis, as new facilities are required to house UCL’s expansive population and more overseas feepayers are touted as a financial panacea for departments. Ultimately, it appears that commercialisation, initiated by the government but perpetuated by UCL, is king.
One could blame the competitive international environment for this failure to rise the rankings. Perhaps, all of UCL’s investment has been necessary for it to merely stay anchored against the turbulent tides of foreign institutions. Yet, even domestically, today it remains at the same fourth place position as in 2012 in the Times Higher Education rankings. Further, Additional reporting by Jakob UCL’s position in the Guardian’s chart of UK universities has fallen from fifth Kiessling, Anna Maria Papaoikonomou, and Zhenya Robinson. to ninth in the same period.
UCL’s Disability Support Shortcomings Academic Independence As Isolation Ronan Parker-Moore I chose Education Studies for my undergraduate degree at UCL. The university has ranked number one in the world for Education for numerous consecutive years; on paper, there was no better place to be. What drew me to the subject was my previous adverse experience with
education at school. During secondary school, I was placed in the bottom sets, where I had just managed to scrape four GCSEs. For context, scoring five GCSEs and above allows for progression to A-level study, and the subsequent opportunity to go to university. From my own experience, bottom set classrooms were characterised by young, inexperienced teachers. It’s not
the teachers’ fault per say; more often it’s due to the teacher’s limited resources and training in understanding the complex needs of an individual child. My failure to thrive academically was provoked by a school system incapable of supporting students with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia. It was not until I returned to
8 Autumn 2021 The Cheese Grater education three years later, to partake in a Higher Education Access course, that I rediscovered my love for learning. With an abundance of support from my new college, which catered to my personal academic needs, I was able to achieve the best grade ever recorded for the course, obtaining 42 out of 45 distinctions. This proved that the problem was not necessarily me, but the structure of disability support systems in and around specific educational institutions. Considering their outstanding reputation, I believed that UCL would support this next stage of my academic career. I was initially taken aback by the lack of communication about my dyslexia before commencing my degree. The limited information I received was an application support questionnaire. However, the questionnaire involved an abundance of explanatory writing. All things considered, this form of communication is something that I struggle with. Previous institutions understood these complexities and therefore carried out pre-planned arrangements face-to face or on Zoom. Despite this, with help from my previous institution, I reached out to the university to explain the nature of my learning difficulties, the support I required and the entitlements that they are obligated to provide. I
was reassured via email that specific adjustments would be made when I started. However, upon arrival, I was shocked by the seemingly abysmal disability support that UCL had to offer. I had not received any emails from the disability support centre or any indication about what to do, where to go or who to ask for help. The feeling of academic incompetence came creeping back. UCL, with its large population and grand buildings, can feel overwhelmingly isolating. I had not felt this anxious and underconfident about my academic abilities since my school days. It has heavily impacted my ability to produce work on-par with my previous standard. I never imagined that a university with such prestige, incredible resources, and knowledge would offer what I feel is catastrophic disability support. The front page of UCL’s Disabled Support website states that, “UCL is an inclusive environment, and we enable all students to study as independently as possible during their time here”. However, there is an immeasurable difference between independence and complete isolation. Now,
disability support services by phone call, a meeting is in motion. Firstly, I will meet to discuss exam arrangements, then a follow up meeting will be arranged to talk through SORA arrangements. However, I have to resend my confirmation of diagnosis before a meeting can commence as if nothing was on their record, despite them having sent me an email stating “Thank you for letting UCL Student Support and Wellbeing know about your disability.” Whilst this is only my personal experience and other students’ encounters with the disability support system may vary, I am not the first student at UCL to feel disadvantaged due to a learning disability. In 2020, The Cheese Grater reported that students were being openly shamed for their disability, with one account highlighting a professor asserting that a student was “too disabled to do [their project]”. Considering this, there appears to be a recurring theme at UCL, one that needs continuous vigilance. If, indeed, UCL and the Institute of Education intend to pioneer creative and inclusive teaching and remain at the top of the educational field, they must set an example by prioritising the needs of their own students.
UCL’s Ethnographic Collection: a Road Towards Decolonisation
Nina Todres and Lily Peng While researching a mask belonging to the Sande society of Mendiland, Sierra Leone, for an assignment, I was puzzled to discover that UCL’s Ethnographic Collection did not have enough information on this object. Only the most basic details were included in its description: the approximate origin date, source location, and ID number. What truly intrigued me was the obscure reference to the object having previously been in a private collection, and the absence of any identifying details. As the
department of Anthropology aims to understand objects as having their own lives and trajectories, this lack of information contradicted the teaching I had received. Therefore, I partnered with a friend to investigate how and why these objects happened to be in this collection, and why there was so little information on them. The mask, along with many other artefacts, is a donation whose prior ownership is untraceable, making the identification process even more difficult.
established by Daryll Ford in 1945, the head of the Anthropology department at the time, with the majority of its objects having been donated from museums and private collections. Yet, its existence presents us with a conflict of interest. While these objects relay a colonial legacy, they also act as an educational medium for students and members of the public. A lack of identifying information disregards the respect owed to ethnographic objects and their origins.
UCL’s Ethnographic Collection was
Delphine Mercier, a curator working
Humour at the collection, revealed to us that the disorganisation of the collection at its inception created a vacuum of knowledge. The curators have been undertaking the immense task of identifying and tracing one object at a time. In one instance, Delphine told us, an object was discovered to be sacred only after research, so a case was crafted for the protection of its sanctity. However, this kind of research requires vast time and resources. Due to a lack of staff, this process has been hugely prolonged. This made us think that if there were more recognition surrounding ethnographic research, the department could garner volunteers universitywide to help with the work that they do. Even though one of us does not
The Cheese Grater Autumn 2021 9 study Anthropology, she would love to volunteer within the collection. Whilst the chance to volunteer is available to Anthropology students, if more students were to hear about this initiative, the collection would prosper. UCL has a responsibility to enable the process of identifying and organising the ethnographic collection on a larger scale in order to decolonise as an institution. In addition to tracing the history of their collection, curators are also attempting to connect with source communities, who may want to either reclaim the objects, or provide more information on them. Delphine stated that repatriation is definitely in the collection’s future. There must be a larger onus on
publicising this collaboration; the department is open to being contacted, yet this is not common knowledge. The global public must be made more aware of the possibility of this communication, thus granting these objects the respect they deserve. What the Anthropology department needs is a thorough review of the collection, from organising archives to updating the outmoded online catalogue, and improved publicity directed towards both volunteers and source communities. If the department heads in this direction, one object at a time, the road towards a decolonised institution will become ever more concrete.
Margaret Thatcher was an LGBTQ+ Ally and Environmentally Conscious Icon. Here’s Why... Mere months ago, amateur politician Boris Johnson astutely noted the environmental credentials of the late and great Margaret Thatcher. Visiting an offshore wind farm in Scotland, he claimed that Thatcher had done wonders for the UK’s move towards net zero through bravely closing dozens of coal mines in the 1980s. Of course, this begs the question: what else did Thatcher do to tackle climate change? Below are just a few ways that the Iron – or should we say Recyclable Metal Straw – Lady committed to a just, green transition. 1. Section 28. This clause in the 1988
Local Government Act prohibited local authorities from ‘promoting’ homosexuality, which led many LGBTQ+ support groups to close. This prevented members of the LGBTQ+ community travelling by bus, car and train to said groups, and therefore reduced their carbon footprint by up to 6000 megatons per person. 2. Milk snatching. You know the deal: in a bid to cut government expenditure, Maggie cut free school milk for children over the age of 7. Although she received heavy criticism at the time, we can now look back with gratitude, cognisant of the heavy environmental impact of industrial
agriculture. Less cows? Less global warming, baby. 3. Neoliberalism. Ugh, fine, this one has a debate attached. Did Thatcher commit to a neoliberal agenda? Did she even have an agenda? Either way, it’s fair to say that Thatcher was pretty sold on the whole laissez-faire thing, and I’m happy to report that the market has responded promptly and effectively to climate change. Disastrous environmental crisis who? So, next time you’ve jumped on the Thatcher-hating bandwagon with your socialist university friends, just remember: Thatcher was the OG Greta Thunberg.
A Studytuber’s Guide to Acing Your Modules Hey guys! What’s up! Welcome back to my channel! I know SO MANY of you are worried about going back to uni after a long summer of hanging out with friends and having fun. Same here! It was SO GOOD to relax, I cut back my study time from 14 hours to 8
hours a day and I felt SO NAUGHTY. Anyway! It’s time to G.B.T.W. (get back to work, duh!) Here are some tips from MOI to get the engine back into motion again. Hehe!
store. I’m so excited to be partnering with Ryman’s for this super special video. Ryman’s cutting-edge stationery helps you craft compelling, understandable writing that makes an impact on your examiner. Are you ready to give it a try? Firstly, go to your local stationery Purchasing is simple and free. Just use
10 Autumn 2021 The Cheese Grater my code RYFAN10 for a whopping 1% off! Next, make sure to TAKE NOTES using your Ryman’s notepad and pen. Did you know that it’s SO MUCH EASIER to retain information when you’re actually writing instead of typing? If the lecturer’s slides are moving too fast, just tell them to ‘slow down, you silly goose!’ or, EVEN BETTER, tell them to get a whiteboard marker from Ryman’s using RYFAN10 for a whopping 1% off so that they can write
down their slides, too! One of the best ways to memorise information is to talk about it with your friends. I LOVE sitting down with my pals at a library or a cafe and discussing our course content - that is, after going to Ryman’s and buying some stationery with my code RYFAN10 for a whopping 1% off. Of course, it is SO IMPORTANT to look after yourself and have breaks between studying as well. Self-care
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comes first - go for a walk in the park, a workout in the gym or snuggle up on the couch and have a binge watch of my videos. Did you know that there are OVER 200 Ryman’s stores in the UK, plus their online shop?! I LOVE going to my local store during a study break and getting a new pen using my code RYFAN10 for a whopping 1% off when I’m feeling a teeny bit stressed. Anyway, I’m off to Ryman’s now! Toodle-oo!
Cheese Grater Admits to Endorsing SU Agenda In light of recent allegations that the Cheese Grater magazine panders to the SU agenda, we would like to confirm that this is undoubtedly, undeniably, and irrefutably true. The Cheese Grater magazine was founded with the sole aim of pedalling the lines of SU executives and UCL Management, and not to cover how the ‘Machiavellian manoeuvres of
of UCL management impact daily life on campus’, as our website suggests. We are proud to have published a myriad of uncritical pieces that defend the actions of the SU. Some particular choice examples can be found here and here. Time and again, we have sought to censor left-wing thinking and support
the status quo. We refuse to cover ‘woke’ non-issues such as UCL’s disability discrimination problem, decolonising the university, or student rent strikes. Thank you to all our readers for supporting us thus far. We are only a small team, so the amount of pro-UCL propaganda we can produce is limited, but we will be fighting the good fight for many years to come.
Why the recent chip shortage is the perfect example of how cisgender, heterosexual, middleclass white men can also be oppressed This article was written by Teddy Bloggs, who insisted it be published unedited or his father, Tedmund Bloggs, would sue. Chips. Just like sushi was made by the Japanese and chicken kebabs by the big man in the kebab shop, you can’t deny that chips represent a key part of British culture. Imagine there was no rice in China, right? That’s how I felt when mummy told me that there’s a chip shortage right now. God, when my mate Felicity told me that I wouldn’t be able to understand women not wanting to walk home alone at night because I’m ‘privileged’, I’m
not gonna lie, I was a bit pissed. But that was about four months ago when chips weren’t in a shortage. Now I get it. What am I supposed to eat at lads’ rugby night tomorrow? Apparently beer is also made of potatoes, so I don’t want to order too much of that either (and neither should you) because it’ll probably make the chip shortage worse. Anyway, I just wanted to get it out there that I get the struggle. Also, we shouldn’t use middle-class white men as a scapegoat for the chip shortage. My grandma gets chips all the time, and she’s 77. Are you going to blame her for the chip shortage? Oh and also one of
my mates is actually mixed race, so you definitely can’t blame us or it’s racist. Wait, is the chip shortage just the UK or in the rest of Europe, too? Maybe if I go to Verbier over the winter and summer holidays, there’ll be more chips there that I can get without feeling guilty.
Teddy has kindly informed us that he wrote this piece after seeing and then thinking long and hard about the title of this BBC news article: https://www.bbc. co.uk/news/business-58230388
Finance-Related Society Name Generator, on sale NOW! Want to work in finance but need to spruce up your CV? Ever heard the term ‘spring week’, given it a Google, and seen fireworks appear as you realise that your dream role is in a large corporation just waiting to be bailed out in the next financial crash? Is the only thing you still need to get through the gates of hell a sweet committee position in a finance society? Well boy do we have you covered! While Asset Management Society is the latest in a long list of finance clubs UCL has to offer, committee positions are snapping up faster than you can say “moral hazard”. The solution? Make that list even longer by creating your own finance society! For just £125, you can have one spin of our finance-related
society name generator, to give you the final push towards putting ‘President’ on your cover letter. Below is some of the generator’s work (all names available for purchase): • Suits, Boots and Wealthy Roots Society • Money, Money, Money Society (ABBA may sue) • “Adderall Is The New Cocaine” Society • Keep the Glass Ceiling Society • Dividends, Returns, Portfolio, Bonds, Returns, Dividends and CDOs Society • Not All Men Society • Men Society • Just Work Harder Society • Men in Finance Society (President position already
taken by a cardboard cutout of Jordan Belfort. All other committee positions still available!) • Joe Rogan and Jordan Peterson Appreciation Society • J Names Appreciation Society • Homophobia Society (reserved by EFS) Email firstname.lastname@example.org for any enquiries.
*Future employment is not guaranteed. Misplaced sense of entitlement definitely guaranteed. T&Cs (Tories & Cisgenders) apply - please.
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UCL Cheese Grater Magazine Society President—Maryam Badghisi email@example.com Editors-in-Chief—Ella Ticktin-Smith and Rusheen Bansal firstname.lastname@example.org Investigations Editor—Alfred Pannell email@example.com Humour Editor—Tania Tang firstname.lastname@example.org Online Editor—Stephanie Frank email@example.com Graphics Editor—Anushka Barthwal © Students’ Union UCL, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of SU UCL or the editors.