Issue 52 – Spring 2016
Have you got a minute for a quick survey?
How would you describe your experience at UCL? Meh
A bit shit
Could be better
Not great tbh
Our Survey Says... Declining Student Experience Threatens to Hit UCL Where it Hurts – in the Wallet Jason Murugesu & Bo Franklin If you’ve seen the six foot tall billboards around UCL encouraging final year students to take part in the National Student Survey (NSS), you might think it’s commendable for UCL to come down from the Portico steps to ask us what we really think. In reality though it’s a pain in the arse that management could do without, and it’s simply highlighting how poor the teaching and student experience is, especially compared to other Russell Group universities. Unfortunately for College bigwigs, what we say in the NSS is about to become crucial in put-
ting food on the table. UCL has long relied on a steady stream of research funding and international students with deep pockets, but now the below-par student experience could really cost the university. Government’s recent higher education green paper outlined the Teaching Excellence framework, which uses the NSS to judge teaching quality. Only institutions deemed ‘excellent’ by the framework will be allowed to raise tuition fees in line with inflation from 2017-18. Last year UCL fared poorly in the survey, scoring just 83% for student
satisfaction, below the national average and down on previous years. At the time Professor Anthony Smith, Vice Provost Education & Student Affairs, said “it is obviously of concern that overall satisfaction has dropped. We take these results extremely seriously, are looking closely at the details and will listen carefully to the issues raised.” In reality, however, the student experience at UCL has been neglected for a long time, and it’ll take more than earnest reassurances to reverse the trend. Continued on page 3
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Down Your Union Norma de Plume
Striiiike Two Having begrudgingly settled with rent strikers for over £500,000 last term, UCL Residences could have been forgiven for thinking it was finally safe to go back into the accountants’ office and count their piles of money. Alas, UCL Cut the Rent – invigorated by their surprise victory and the early return of prodigal Swede David Dahlborn from abroad – have upped the stakes, enlisting angry freshers from halls across the college estate in an indefinite rent strike (see last CG). The campaigners, led by UCLU Halls representative Angus O’Brien, have enjoyed extensive media coverage. A hard cell of strikers did a stiff turn on BBC News, and their efforts were hailed by wistful London Student old boy Oscar Webb in a predictably fiery dispatch for VICE. The blaze of publicity seems to support the group’s claim that their “strike marks a turning point in the tactics of tenants struggling for affordable housing across London” – but despite the fanfare it isn’t quite the mass movement its planners envisioned. Insiders suggest many more might have joined the 150-strong awkward squad were it not for the flakiness of some of the campaign’s pledges. Nonetheless, the group is withholding the contents of its £250,000 war chest until their nemesis, lugubriously-named halls chief Colin Plank, agrees to a 40 per cent cut in rent to make amends for the inflation-busting increases of 56 per cent since 2009. The rent hikes – which Cut the Rent claim have netted College an operating profit of 45 per cent on its lucrative property portfolio – have been branded “tuition fees by stealth” by strikers, who have pledged to fight an uncompromising confrontational campaign. Their no-nonsense approach makes the official College response to its fifth column of dissenters all the more remarkable – and shows just how far things have come for Cut the Rent since
its modestly-attended sit-ins of last year. In a statement that clearly came straight from the back foot, UCL Residences made the faintly ludicrous claims that they “invariably spend more on residences than we receive in rental income” and “keep rents as low as possible” (try telling that to freshers who pay 200 quid a week to live with rats and cockroaches) – but more significantly, admitted they would now “explore ways in which it might be possible to mitigate financial pressures on students resulting from housing costs in London”. Given recent revelations that College is pursuing further partnerships with private providers (see last CG), it seems unlikely that their efforts will satisfy O’Brien: indeed, halls bosses maintain they won’t give in to the hefty forty per cent demand.
Going Through The Motions In a year where College has been forced to think the unthinkable by tenacious campaigning, another unlikely victory for the underdog could be on the cards. Fossil Free’s occupation of the Quad might not have forced the Provost to instantly scrap UCL’s investment in environmentally unfriendly energy companies, but it looks like they could get one step closer to their goal – through the official channels they’ve spent so much of their time disrupting. The Cheese Grater has learned a motion has been added to the agenda of this Wednesday’s (February 10th) meeting of Academic Board, through which academics advise and berate College management. At the vanguard of the fight is people’s champion Professor Jane Rendell, who has previous in taking stances unpopular with UCL bigwigs. In 2013 she resigned from her post as Vice Dean of Research in protest against the shady way in which UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources accepted £6m in funding from mining company BHP Billiton. Although the Provost has made it known that he isn’t willing to divest from Fossil Fuels yet, sufficient pressure from the
Society Bitch Life bereft of purpose after finishing Making a Murderer? Your columnist has good news: PiTV are pressing ahead with what promises to be an equally compelling webseries about a couple of lovelorn dweebs. Unwilling to let frivolities such as ability or practicality get in the way of doling out meaningless job titles, the ambitious rom-com is looking for over 50 crew members, including a showrunner and two assistant directors. The Sopranos, on the other hand, had to make do with just the one: proof, as if any was needed, that anything the professionals can do, Pi can do it twice as well. If by ‘anything’ you mean bureaucracy. Meanwhile, UCL Cut the Rent – fresh from an appearance on BBC News – are already revelling in TV stardom. But have they been blinded by the limelight? The plucky refuseniks giddily tweeted news of an unlikely Corbyn endorsement last week – but it wasn’t from kindred spirit Jez. Instead, the revolutionaries were joined on the stump by his dishevelled big brother, climate-change-denying loon Piers (pictured). No news yet on whether he’ll be endorsing Fossil Free.
academic community could make his position untenable. Crucially, Rendell was voted onto UCL’s Ethical Investment Review Committee when it was seen as an irrelevant body that only met infrequently. Now that investments are subject to closer scrutiny (see CG 50) and divestment demands are reaching so far up official channels however, Rendell’s seat on the committee could prove crucial in changing UCL’s position.
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National Student Shitshow (Cont’d from page one) One of the reasons for a drop in student experience is the ballooning student intake every year, putting pressure on departments to deliver a high level of teaching with increasingly stretched resources. Today the number of students stands at 38,313, a leap of 43% compared to 2012, yet UCL is still expected to ask all departments to reduce their costs by 10% in the coming months in an attempt to boost their cash reserves. Also fuelling the dissatisfaction are the unreasonable expectations placed on postgraduate teaching assistants. Many PGTAs use teaching to help fund their studies, but the rewards are often low compared to the workload. Harry Stopes, a PhD student at UCL and postgraduate representative for teachers’ union UCU, said that PGTAs are paid a fixed number of hours for each course they teach, but that this rarely covers the amount of work required to adequately prepare for and teach the course. According to Stopes, “it’s normal for teaching assistants to go the extra mile and give undergraduates the best experience possible, but this inevitably means working for longer hours than you get paid.” A survey conducted last year by UCL Fair Pay for TAs found that on average 40% of the hours worked are unpaid. It’s true that this problem is far from unique to UCL, and many universities have similar issues. Despite this, it’s difficult to imagine how student experience will improve while academic staff are under such pressures. Another persistent ball-ache for students is the inadequacy of UCL’s buildings and facilities, meaning lectures often end up in cramped seminar rooms, with students failing to find spaces to study and some even complaining of having to sit on the floor in classes. This was addressed by UCL in its response to last year’s survey results. Mentioning “significant and urgent changes to the teaching estate”, management promised “We’ll also be looking
at the quality of our learning spaces, to ensure they are welcoming, comfortable and conducive to learning.” Major projects such as the new student centre aren’t due to open for several years, however, and UCL’s slow creep out of Bloomsbury and towards east London (see CG47) is progressing at an agonising pace. Instead, inadequate and inefficient stop gaps have been set up to appease students. A ‘pop-up learning hub’ (read: portacabin) has been set up in the south quad, to the chagrin of staff and students alike and at a cost of nearly a million pounds. The UCL Senate House hub does offer much needed study space, although at a cost of more than five million pounds over ten years, temporary improvements like these are pricey options. The way UCL Estates has handled the Bloomsbury Theatre debacle (see page 4) can’t instil much hope in students for a reborn Bloomsbury utopia any time soon. Management’s proposals for improv-
The Pop-up Learning Hub, yesterday.
ing the student experience as part of its ambitious 2034 plan seem equally poorly conceived, conspicuously dodging the real issue of departments having to teach more students with tightly rationed resources. The ChangeMakers initiative, presumably suggested by The Thick of It’s Nicola Murray, encourages students and staff to partner-up, Bonnie and Clyde-style, “to investigate an educational issue and make improvements or to pilot a change and evaluate it.” Whether students battling deadlines and exam pressure will be willing to put in the effort is yet to be seen. Another blue-sky idea is the Con-
nected Curriculum, with students learning through research and enquiry rather than taking notes from a lecturer. The aim is to engage students as “partners in their education, and as co-producers of knowledge improving the experiences of both students and staff ”, which seems like a laudable ideal. The only problem is, with departments overstretched and academics overworked as it is, nobody has the time or resources to actually implement it. One academic, teaching in the faculty of Life Sciences, told The Cheese Grater that there was already pressure to cut the number of days of fieldwork undertaken by undergrads – seemingly a perfect opportunity for some research-based learning – due to the cost of fieldwork in comparison to learning from a textbook. Professor Peter Scott, of the UCL Institute of Education, pointed out in a recent Guardian article the inadequacy of the NSS in reliably judging teaching excellence, writing “All metrics are open to manipulation. But these are especially vulnerable. NSS scores are now ruthlessly “gamed”, because of their impact on league tables.” It’ll take a lot of gaming for UCL to boost their scores, however. Having focussed for so long on research funding and a lucrative international student intake, the government’s proposal to control tuition fees based on student experience now threatens to throttle UCL’s flow of cash. In May UCL faces a review by the Quality Assurance Agency into, among other things, the quality and enhancement of student learning opportunities. Although management are scrabbling to turn the tide, the already stretched resources of departments might mean it’s too little, too late. The Cheese Grater reached out to UCL for comment on the National Student Survey, and how the College is improving student experience, but didn’t receive a reply at the time of printing.
Contributors: John Bilton, Maddy Comber, Ned Davies, Catherine Dorman, Bo Franklin, P.K. Maguire, Ben Munster, Jess Murray, Jason Murugesu, Will Purser, Jack Redfern, Anna Saunders, Jamal Seddougui, Huw Steer,
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Final Curtain for the Bloomsbury Theatre? Bloomsburied. John Bilton & Bo Franklin “Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent musical theatre from harmonising by taking a sledgehammer to their dreams.” - W. H. Auden. The Cheese Grater’s prediction of ‘asbestos yet to come’ (CG51) was incredibly close to the mark. UCL’s catastrophic mismanagement of building works on the Bloomsbury Theatre has become even more shambolic than some of the student productions it’s seen over the years. Last year the theatre’s initiallyshort closure was extended by several months due to issues with asbestos, despite UCL having known of the problems for almost a decade. Now however, the closure has been extended to 2018, meaning that – if it reopens at all – the theatre will have been closed for nearly three years. Unfortunate thespians joining UCL last year likely won’t get a chance to use it at all. According to College, the complexity of the works being undertaken have made predicting the length of closure difficult, but worryingly the extended
closure will now “allow for an options appraisal to be undertaken”. The Cheese Grater takes this to mean that the site won’t necessarily remain a theatre. While the Bloomsbury is a major draw for students hoping to tread the boards, it’s not a money spinner for UCL, and takes up a huge amount of space on the increasingly crowded Bloomsbury campus – space that could be used to boost College’s dwindling study and teaching facilities. On receiving the latest news, Arts societies were incensed, and held a suitably melodramatic ‘funeral for the arts’ to show management how much the theatre meant. Unfortunately only a handful of mourners showed up, and it achieved little more than disrupting another society’s rehearsal and stuffing an open letter calling for an explanation into the hands of senior management. The open letter has been signed by a number of present and past UCL students with fond memories of the Bloomsbury, including current UCLU Activities and Events Officer Asad Khan, who perplexingly wrote “Had Orwell been writing about UCL, perhaps his work would’ve been titled
Some pesky asbestos.
‘2016’.” Presumably it’s been a while since Khan actually read Orwell’s dystopian thriller. At a Q&A session last Thursday Simon Kane, the university’s Public and Cultural Engagement Director, told students that now the theatre was closed, it could be changed or updated to better suit the needs of students. Whether UCL’s view of the needs of students includes a theatre is a different matter. He did promise that any consultations which take place will be “fully transparent”, but when asked if he could promise that the Bloomsbury wouldn’t be turned into another lecture theatre Kane said he couldn’t guarantee anything. Don’t be surprised if the theatre’s doors stay shut for good.
UCL Falls for the Placebo Effect Ned Davies Last week UCL was forced to cancel a two-day conference due to be held at its Institute of Neurology after it turned out the event was promoting the dubious use of homeopathy in treating cancer. Dr. Prasanta Banerji was charging attendees an £180 entry fee to discuss his ‘Banerji Protocols’, a set of self-developed methods to treat cancer which have been criticised for having no basis in scientific fact. In his book, available for an added £65 on top of the ticket price, Banerji claims that he and his son treat 300 patients a day and boasts of vague and obscure links to scientists all over the world. Had the event gone ahead, it could even have been considered illegal, as UK law forbids ad-
vertising any form of cancer treatment. UCL is at the forefront of cancer research, and Banerji’s conference would have both embarrassed and damaged the reputation of the Institute. Once the event came to the attention of the scientific community, College management swiftly cancelled it in an attempt to save face. While Banerji’s event ended in a close call, the increasing fervour with which others are clamouring to associate themselves with UCL – along with the amount of money they’re willing to stump up to do so – risks comprimising the university’s standing and integrity. Professor David Colquhoun, a Professor of Pharmacology at UCL, tweeted
Dr. Prasanta Banerji.
that the booking was made by a junior secretary “unaware of issues”, adding that lessons had been learned. Why anyone thought it was a good idea to host a homeopathy conference in the first place is unclear. Maybe it’s just the memory of something in the water.
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UCL Publishers’ Prize Winner The Cheese Grater previews one of this year’s anthology entries. The UCL Publishers’ Prize was set up to promote and foster new writing talent. Each year the best entries inspired by a theme are published in an anthology. The theme for 2016 is ‘realism’. Here, The Cheese Grater presents one of the succesful entries, My Father’s Broom, written by second year Geography student Thierry Ennui. Let me tell you about the finest buffet this side of Havana. We were 20 clicks off the Amazonian Coast: Crusoe, Cortez, Miss Rabinowicz, Long John Silver, and, of course, yours truly, me. The year was unimportant, what matters is that the night was old, visibly wrinkled, and our vessel was veiled by a silky gloom. ‘Long’ was at the helm, and I was on navigation, following nothing but the cold glimmer of the stars, the childlike adventure in my heart, and an insatiable lust for glory. Harpoon, net, blunderbuss, and cutlass in hand, I stood photogenically at the prow.
Six years we’d been on its trail, the kraken, famished scourge of the seas – more squid than man. Six years with its tentacles fondling Davy Jones. I’d been alone for so long, with nothing but the rats, our vast provisions, my own thoughts, and the crew for company, when, all of a sudden, I saw it clearly for the first time! But Alas! By then we’d already crashed upon the rocks! Crusoe was killed instantly by the harpoon I fired, and the rest, myself included, made our way onto the shore. Crusoe was killed instantly by the harpoon I fired, and the rest, myself included, made our way onto the shore. Cortez began to say something about an abundance of wild boars, but by then I’d already decided, having remembered a documentary I’d recently watched, that there was only one escape from this dire moral quandary we found ourselves in. We’d have to draw straws, I told them, and whoever drew the short straw would get eaten. Nobody else was particularly keen to try this, so I handed out the
A Funeral for the Arts
straws myself. By a great stroke of fortune, everybody but I got a short straw. The rumbling of my stomach louder than all of their screams combined, I devoured them within a few hours. As I was chasing Esther through the undergrowth for dessert, a ship was spied on the horizon. I realized I had no time to lose if I were to chow down before rescue arrived. You know, they say that human flesh tastes like pork, but it’s hard to tell when you’re guzzling it so fast that your tongue can’t keep up with your teeth. Before long, a middle-aged man with a trim moustache and white naval suit stepped off the steamer, and with a concerned eye, called out to me. “Yummy!” I exclaimed, as I consumed him and his crew. Upon polishing off the last cabin boy, and hungry for seconds, something occurred to me. The tentacled horror of my obsessions had been nothing but a metaphor all along, a manifestation of my internal darkness and desperate hunger for human flesh. “Cool!” I thought, as I sped back towards civilisation.
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She Tows Trouble comes to the Birmingham NEC. Elddis Chiltington After the Academy Awards received fierce criticism in recent weeks over a lack of diversity, other similarly prestigious awards are now facing increased scrutiny, revealing some ugly prejudices that many in our society would rather not face. The Caravan Club’s Caravan Design and Lightweight Leisure Trailer Awards, held for the last 21 years at Birmingham’s iconic NEC, has now come under fire from a number of high-profile figures for failing to adequately represent women in its nominees. Laurie Penny, the feminist columnist, tweeted last night: “YET AGAIN no women nominated in the ‘Small Family Caravan’ category. Disgusting. #FemalesNotFiberglass #LabiasNotLightCapacityTowingVehicles” Giants of the leisure world including the Halfords senior management team and Wyndham Wordwide, the owners of Hoseasons, have also an-
nounced their intentions to boycott the event. Organisers of the award issued a statement insisting “the trailers are judged on their ease of setting up on site, available living area when set up, kitchen and bathroom equipment supplied, position of electric sockets and many other areas. Any suggestion of bias or prejudice is unfair, we simply want to find the best caravan.” Jennifer Lawrence, the only woman to be nominated this year – in the category of Trailer Tents with Kitchen over £6000 – told The Cheese Grater: “This has been the most incredible year, and I’ve worked with so many amazing directors and estate cars. To find yourself up against caravans and trailers you’ve idolised your whole life, big names such as the Conway Countryman and Pennine Fiesta, is truly humbling. I only hope that the work I’ve done on my on-site setup and chemical waste disposal system will be enough to stand out on the night.”
The 2016 Abbey Aventura 317.
Lawrence went on to add “Put your phone away, dickweed. We’re talking about the Caravan Design and Lightweight Leisure Trailer Awards, if you put your phone down you’d know that.” It’s unlikely that the controversy will die down for the awards, as loveable lad and sometime rape apologist Dapper Laughs will be hosting the ceremony. An insider revealed that Ricky Gervais was too expensive, and Dapper was perfect for the job as “he’s been living in a caravan since that Newsnight interview aired anyway.”
Cheese Grater Top 5: Soviet Videogames Number Five - Kuryacha Polyuvannya (Chicken Hunt) The Brothers Mario Chicken Hunt sees the player assume the role of a humble chicken-herd in the upper Caucasus region, scouring the pitifully rendered Soviet landscape in search of two hundred missing hens. The task is arduous, the gameplay is sparse and uneventful. Critic Alexander Mitchyanovka suggested that the game’s ‘stubborn refusal to become anything even remotely close to enjoyable’ ingeniously resembles the ‘aching tedium of real life’, where the ‘belief in a better future is perpetually quelled by the crushing reality of the present.’ It is, however, worth noting that Mitchyanovka’s gloomy stance on ‘real life’ is often attributed to the fact that his own ‘real life’ was spent solely playing Chicken Hunt,
locked in his estranged father’s hunting cabin.* He tragically died before finishing the game, having only succeeded in finding one chicken. I managed it in about forty five minutes. *It is a matter of intellectual dispute as to whether Mitchyanovka was ever aware of being locked inside the cabin; some scholars suggest he never even tried to open the door, and others suggest he didn’t know it was a door, owing to the doorless nature of his favourite and only pastime. (See Komkachov’s heart-wrenching epic poem ‘No Door to My Heart’ for a refreshingly candid take on the subject.) Next issue: Number Four - Priklyucheniva bravogo Kevka batrak (The Adventures of Kevka the Good Farmhand) Chicken Hunt, running on period hardware.
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Roosh V’s Valentine’s Dating Guide The pick-up artist and men’s rights activist offers his 13 lucky tips for the hapless lad this Valentine’s Day. 1. The first thing you need to do is choose your date from your overstuffed rolodex – remember to exclude the ones who have restraining orders out on you. 2. Before your date, trim your beard and slick back your hair, but leave one strand free so that she knows you don’t really care. 3. Carry a big phone in your pocket so that when she says “Is that a phone in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?” you’ll know that she’s thinking about your dick. Also you can tell her she’s wrong, so she’ll feel bad about herself. 4. Pick her up ten minutes late so she feels insecure and thinks you were doing something fun without her, even if you were just fapping in your mom’s basement. 5. Wait until she reaches for the door of your mom’s car, but when she tries to get in, drive forward a little bit. Repeat until water comes out of her eyeholes. 6. Take her to Denny’s™. Take every date to Denny’s™. It has the advantage of both selling a lot of bacon and being open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, so you can fit at least seven dates into a single day. 7. If a waiter serves you, make a comment about your date’s breasts and high-five him in the face so that she knows you’re an alpha male. If a waitress serves you, slip her your number in full view of your date. If possible, pay the waitress to flirt with you beforehand, so that your date can see how desirable you are. 8. If the waiter tries to address any questions directly to your date, loudly sing the lyrics to ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ to cover up what they’re saying, and then decide for her. 9. If she manages to order for herself, ask the waiter how many calories her chosen dish has, and suck air between your teeth loudly until she chooses the Denny’s™ Avocado Chicken Caesar Salad with no avocado, chicken, bacon, cheese or dressing. 10. For yourself, order the Denny’s™ Grand Slamwich®, and eat it slowly whilst staring directly into her eyes to hint at your sexual prowess. 11. If she offers to pay some of the bill, laugh sarcastically for five minutes. Then pay with your mom’s Amex so that your date knows she will never be the number one woman in your life 12. Drive your date home, leaving the interior light on to ensure that she doesn’t play “Hey ladies.” with the stereo or the windows. 13. In my experience, one of two things normally happens at this point. The first is that you pull up to you date’s home and realise that it’s also your home, and you’ve actually been on a date with your mom. The second is that you open the car door and a tiny rodent scurries out, and it turns out that your date was actually a vole all along.
DJ Khaled’s Pancake Day The producer marks Shrove Tuesday the only way he knows how – on Snapchat.
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Cheese Grater Puzzle Corner Brain teasers for your coffee break!
#OverheardAtUCLQatar “Hold on Your Excellency, I think it just fell between the gender pay gap.”
“This essay is a real forced labour of love.” “You coming round mine for a prelash this afternoon?”
Heard something funny around campus? Send it on a postcard to Office of the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais des Nations, Geneva
UCL Union Cheese Grater Magazine Society President—Jess Murray Editor—Bo Franklin Investigations Editor—P.K. Maguire Humour Editor—Maddy Comber
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© UCL Union, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of UCL Union or the editor.