The Cheese Grater Issue 87 Summer 2024

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Issue 87 Summer 2024 @uclcheesegrater Investigations:
New Low
8 Voices:
21 Humour: So, the Woman
Were Interested
You She’s A Lesbian
The Provost’s Record on
Support Sinks to a
– Page
The State of
NUS is A Bit Like
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In Tells
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Editor’s Note: The Year in Review

From Awards to Social Media, here’s a brief recap of the 2023/24 academic year at The Cheese Grater.

Robert Delaney

Whilst we couldn’t collect the award (for reasons I won’t discuss here), The Cheese Grater is officially UCL’s Publication of the Year. It has been a good year for the publication, not only by the metric of honours bestowed upon us by the Students’ Union, but also with regards to the quality of journalism, satire, sketch comedy and feminist discourse produced by our society at large. I know that all of the above is wishy washy bolloxology, but I still think it’s pretty important to note that we are the best publication of the year, have published the best media piece of the year and won in two categories at the NATIONAL student publication awards. For the umpteenth year running we have been a better publication than Pi as mandated by Clause 4.3.1 of our constitution. Sorry Pi x

Genny Lec is the talk of the town at the moment, and whilst this issue of The Cheese Grater is packed with investigations relating to democratic accountability, we have little to say on the national picture. This is because we’re not only quite lazy (hence why the right-wing press are right about National Service), but we are also apathetically not-arsed, so we won’t be talking about politicians who fervently hate anyone below the age of 55.

I also want it to be made known that this publication endorses no-one in the upcoming election (this is subject to change, however, if a cheque of any amount over £10,000 is delivered to the Media Office, Room 201, Floor 2, The Lewis Building, 136 Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BP). Rumour has it that Pi is endorsing The Greens, The Lib Dems and Reform UK as a means of appealing to their entire audience (the editor’s Mum, Dad and Uncle).

Coming back to UCL, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, Micheal Spence has overseen yet another year of unspectacular leadership. I hope he and I can disagree well on this, although his lack of presence on campus shows to me that he’s scared of this publication and our tough scrutiny of his provostship! UCL consistently promotes itself as a democratic institution, but if it really was, Dr Spence, the money-waster turned anti-LGBTQ pariah, would most likely be out of a job. Nonetheless, his refusal to acknowledge UCL’s role in the ongoing genocide in Gaza, and lack of regard for his own staff members, persists. You can read on in this issue to find out more, but if you can’t be arsed, take

my word for it, the guy’s a wrongun.

The Students’ Union has also been a bit of a mess this year. Whilst we love Guy Stepney and (most of) the media team, a certain Sabb has made life for committee heads a living hell over the last few months. I wish we could elect good people to the Union; I really do pray for a functional democracy at UCL, but it seems that the whole institution, students and Union included, seem not to understand how to get good candidates elected. I say this, but shoutout to Mary McHarg, best President ever, #FourMoreYears. Nonetheless, the unnamed (soon to be named, if you read

on) Sabb is going over to the States for a masters, so despite their re-election, we probably won’t have another year of inactivity and disengagement. Hurrah!

I hope that, in the wake of this surprise exit, the Arts gets some more funding so UCL has a bigger student media presence next year. With a recent multi-million pound investment into the Union, one would think that The Cheese Grater is rolling in it. Yet, this money isn’t reaching us, and we feel poorer than ever before [Insert cost of living or adjacent buzzword here]. This all sounds very negative, and yes, student media here is somewhat struggling, but, in the words D:Ream’s Peter Cunnah, things can only get better. We are also

leagues above the student publications at LSE or Imperial, so that’s a bonus.

We’ve had a big online presence this year, and manning the Instagram and Twitter pages has been a funny experience in many ways. From constant messages from porn-bots to the random invitations from corporate hacks for their fundraiser initiatives, the inbox of The Cheese Grater’s Instagram has never been more diverse. Whilst I have forever altered The Cheese Grater’s for you page through my hungover doomscrolling on Instagram Reels (forgetting the account isn’t my personal one), I think it’s fair to say that we have had a pretty good online presence over the last few months. I want to thank all those who contributed, in whatever form, to the publication this year, as without you, we wouldn’t have a magazine (echoing UCL’s new, slightly hypocritical, student life motto).

Another big shout out goes to the editorial team, as per all of our Linkedin posts after the Arts Awards. You guys are great. I also want to extend a huge thanks to Zhenya, our unopposed, “democratically elected”, Russian President, without whom none of this would be possible. I’m sad to see the Robinson Cheese Grater dynasty come to an end this year (Zhenya’s older sister Sophia was Editor a few years ago) but alas, maybe a new media dynasty will rise from the ashes. Oh and also bigups to Mads, best co-EIC I could’ve asked for!

Enough of all that soppy shite, I’ll finish this ramble here. To conclude, in a typical history student turned faux-journalist fashion, I have loved serving as this publication’s co-Editor-in-Chief. I wish the best for the next editors because, believe me, the freshers issue is a pain in the arse to write because fuck all happens between June and September. In fact, it seems UCL is the most boring university in Britain prior to Christmas, and then everything seems to happen at once (concurrent to January coursework deadlines of course). So, please do read on to find out about what happened at the Arts Awards, the truth behind departmental redundancies, whats going on down your Students’ Union, what to do if you chat up a lesbian and much, much, more.

1 Summer Issue 2024 The Cheese Grater News & Investigations

“A Culture of Overwork and Abuse”

Years after the first Complaints, the Mistreatment of Post Graduate Teacher Assistants continues

Andrea Bidnic, Malvika Murkumbi and Mayra Nassef

In 2017, The Cheese Grater published an article titled “Teaching on the cheap: UCL’s exploitation of teaching assistants revealed”. This article illuminated the plight of UCL’s Postgraduate Teaching Assistants (PGTAs), PhD students who assist module convenors by dispensing lectures, teaching seminars, and marking assignments.

PGTAs currently constitute between 1500 and 2000 members of the UCL community, a sizable proportion of UCL’s teaching staff who, depending on their department, prepare lectures and seminars, help lecturers, mark assignments, and answer students’ emails. The 2017 article spotlighted a series of drastic pay gaps that included UCL’s PGTAs making considerably less than PGTAs at other London universities.

Since The Cheese Grater’s last article, the situation for PGTAs has not improved. Often forced to work additional hours with little to no compensation for it, PGTA wages are still lower than those of their equivalents

in other London universities and are sometimes paid late. Despite numerous complaints since 2017, UCL’s inaction and seeming indifference towards the condition of their PGTAs has persisted.

The following interviews from Issy Smith (The Student’s Union Postgraduate Officer), an anonymous PGTA, and an Institute of Archaeology PhD Students’ Representative make it clear that UCL needs to reconfigure their treatment of PGTAs.

1. The current situation:

Unpaid overtime continues to be a widespread issue for PGTAs. The gap between their maximum number of contracted hours and the real quantity of work is often considerable.

PGTAs are employed on fixed-term contracts and are required to fulfil these duties within a maximum of just 180 hours a term, making managing such a workload, in the words of Issy, “not even plausible”.

She ventured to describe the situation as “exploitation”, before confirming in a firmer tone that “it definitely is”, and “has been an issue for a long time”. The responsibilities for PGTAs, as Issy explained, are only going to increase, considering UCL’s “stupid” willingness to increase student numbers each year across most departments.

This treatment is unfair. Such working conditions also make taking on a second part-time job impossible, exacerbating the already precarious financial situation of many PhD candidates.

This issue is further complicated by UCL’s non-competitive salaries in comparison with other London universities. At Imperial College London, PGTAs’ pay per hour ranges from £18.48 to £30.41 depending on the job description. In contrast at UCL, pay is limited to between £16.99 and £19.73 per hour, depending on the candidate’s experience but regardless of the work undertaken.

When The Cheese Grater asked the Institute of Archaeology (IOA) PhD representative for an explanation behind such dis-

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disparity, they defeatedly explained, “that’s how much they value PGTA students”.

It was also revealed that such a miserable salary is also often affected by late or missed payments. Issy asserted the delayed payment “is all to do” with PGTAs’ respective departments, and not the central UCL administration, which relies on “the department submitting the right material documents on time”.

In addition to the fragile economic situations they foster, such poor working conditions create “an amount of stress that can sometimes lead people to just give up on their PhD completely” and “burnout”, the PhD student representative told us.

As one may expect, unpaid overtime and generally poor working conditions also impacts on the quality of PGTAs PhD research. The interviewed PGTA explained that “for some people it may have been a detriment to their PhD as well” because “they’re basically spending too much time focusing upon lectures and teaching”.

As each PGTA has their own unique situation, in their own department, with their own module convenor, tackling issues across the institution is very complex. When Issy went to HR to communicate on PGTAs’ problems she was told they were “aware of individual cases” but couldn’t “act on anything unless it’s a theme or a bigger pattern”. However, it did not “particularly” make sense to our Postgrad officer who was rightfully concerned that the prevalence of individual cases was not sufficient enough to trigger a reaction from HR and the spot-checking of departments.

2. PGTAs and the “cultural norm” of higher education

Explanations for the consistent overworking of PGTAs cannot be purely limited to tightening budgets. As the interviewed PhD rep explained, such mistreatment results from a deep-rooted “cultural norm”. PGTAs seek academic recognition from their professors by not complaining and accepting demands to work more, so the more PhD students “get screwed over by a professor [setting a lot of extra work], the better [they] feel”, the IoA representative told The Cheese Grater.

The representative went on to explain that these practices are so entrenched that in the past, many PhD students went against proposed changes to the

PGTA system, opposing the very representatives who sought to defend them, in order not to appear “weak” or “overworked” in front of managers.

Whilst there are many understanding professors who sympathise with the PGTAs and have attempted to help improve the situation, according to the PhD representative, they are “met with resistance” from colleagues or departments’ committee members who perpetuate this “culture of overwork and abuse”. In the representative’s opinion, academics “100% suffered from such a culture [when they were in] in the same place” in their careers and continue this mistreatment.

PhD students speaking up or complaining about their situations can amount to career suicide, “because these professors become your enemy, and then you can’t get a job at university”, the IoA representative warned.

3. Fear of speaking up

Over the course of our investigation, The Cheese Grater did observe a wall of silence from those working as PGTAs at UCL. PGTAs who experienced harsh working conditions constantly refused to be interviewed, likely out of the feared retributions mentioned above.

Despite the outlined state of employment for PGTAs, the situation is not so dire for all working in such a role. One PGTA described his line manager as “very supportive” and “very patient”, noting that they “felt very grateful to work underneath her”. This positive experience of one employee demonstrates that the structural issues faced by PGTAs are far from insurmountable, and that many more senior members of staff within the system provide great mentorship and support.

& Investigations

It must be noted that it is difficult to assess the number of PhD students experiencing hardships. Nevertheless, the recurrence of complaints throughout the years and the concrete figures about their poor rate of pay serve as the main proof of their persistence. If change can only be enacted by UCL’s central administration, the use of the SU’s great lobbying power could be crucial.

4. The Students’ Union UCL

The Task and Finish Group commissioned by UCL’s Quality and Standard Committee (QSC) would be the first step in enacting improvement. The QSC is the authority which, as Issy explains, “reviews a handful of departments each year (...) looking into their practices broadly as a teaching forum” to ultimately provide improvement recommendations.

Issy explained that QSC is more focused on the training of PGTAs and perfecting the relationship between PGTAs and undergrad students, rather than on the actual pay, salaries and power relation issues outlined above. However, she still described the creation of such a program as a “positive step” which should allow the SU to pressure the relevant UCL administrative authorities to make sure “whatever recommendations come out of it are actioned”.

Nevertheless, the SU’s potential is greatly weakened by their limited acknowledgement amongst PGTAs: far too many are not informed about the kind of SU support they could benefit from.

There are four breeds of PGTAs. (Image: internet source)


The PGTA interviewed by The Cheese Grater asserted that “there needs to be more emphasis placed on the potential support that the SU can offer, especially in the role as an external judicator or a person that can end up repping you, especially when things get rough.”

Issy told The Cheese Grater that “I don’t think people realise that I can support them,” adding that, not being “linked in any way to departments”, she keeps reports anonymous. She then added, “I will really want to launch an awareness campaign about PGTAs and the kind of support and access you can have from the Union”.

5. Impact on undergraduate students

Inevitably, PGTAs’ poor treatment deteriorates the quality of their teaching. The IoA PhD representative told us that as a PGTA, you can “use the time you’re assigned to do to the best of your capabilities” or work overtime for free to provide “good feedback for students”.

Students pay a hefty price to attend UCL (or alternatively plunge themselves into a large amount of debt) and if “you don’t have time to dedicate” to your studies, “your quality of teaching is going to be bad”, the IoA representative explained. For both PGTAs and undergraduate it’s a lose-lose situation

Life in the Encampment

6. Conclusion

The mistreatment experienced by some PGTAs, coupled with their involuntary or forced silence takes its toll on PhD students’ mental and physical health, leading to burnouts and a poorer quality of teaching.

Years after the first complaints arose, the wait for major improvements goes on. Will PGTAs’ salvation come from the SU? Issy likes to think so, she wants to “make sure that there’s solid foundations (...) for these issues to really take momentum” by the time her mandate ends in June. “There’s a lot of good people [within the SU and UCL] trying to do good work (...) I will keep fighting my side”.

An Interview with UCL Stand For Justice, a Pro-Palestine Student Organisation

Robert Delaney

*On the request of the interviewee, their name has been changed to Ramallah19. This interview was conducted prior to SFJ’s action at the SU Awards on May 30th and 31st

On the 20th May The Cheese Grater spoke to Ramallah19, a member of UCL Stand for Justice (UCL SFJ), a student-led coalition dedicated to advocating for Palestinian rights and statehood. On the 2nd May 2024, UCL SFJ, Ramallah19 included, occupied the front quad of UCL’s main building. Outside of the Slade Art School and in front of the Portico Steps, the encampment has become more than a collection of tents over its two-week existence.

As is explored below, the encampment has come to foster a diverse and educational environment in which students from all across UCL have voiced their abhorrence at UCL’s alleged complicity with genocide in Gaza. In conversation with Ramallah19, who is SFJ’s media representative, The Cheese Grater explores the motives behind the protest, alongside the practicalities of everyday life in the encampment, demonstrating the determination of the protestors in their advocacy against UCL’s ties to institutions and companies working in and with Israel.

As there has never been an occupation of the lawn in the front quad before, the living situation protestors have

subjected themselves to is quite unconventional. When asked about what life was like inside the encampment, Ramallah19 responded by saying that “it’s absolutely amazing”. According to the spokesperson, members of the encampment have “created here a micro-society, a community reflecting what life would be like in a liberated world, because we are all here with purity in our hearts to fight against injustice”.

After the idea of a new society was discussed, Ramallah19 went on to talk about the “practicalities” of life in the encampment, explaining that “ we sleep in tents... It’s generally comfortable – but in the night time it can get really cold, and in the mornings it gets really hot, especially on sunny days like this – but that just gets us up early!”. Regarding hygiene, The Cheese Grater was told that the encampment members “use the UCL toilets right there [in the Portico], and shower in the basement of the Student Centre”. Resources for the encampment, including “food, drinks, water, blankets, tents, electronics”, nearly exclusively come from the encampment’s “wider community”. Explaining how the encampment received such donations, Ramallah19 noted that “we put out a call [on social media], asking for power banks or whatever we need and the community comes and donates”.

Ramallah19 went on to say that “we’ve had, at times, so many food donations

that we had to go and donate to local food banks as we couldn’t get through it ourselves”.

As the encampment has coincided with the exam period, The Cheese Grater enquired as to how encampment members have juggled their protest and academic responsibilities. Ramallah19, who studies social sciences, explained that, as “everyone [at the encampment] is from UCL”, they all have exams and coursework. As they needed to study, the encampment members have “created a study corner and called it the Dr Refaat Alareer Library [after the UCL alumni and poet killed by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza]”. The encampment also has “a technology area where [protestors] charge devices and an area dedicated to quiet study”. Ramallah19 said that the protestors have “created a space to get our university work done; but [that the] space wouldn’t be the same without the people”. Whilst resisting UCL’s complicity in genocide, Ramallah19 explained that the encampment members “cannot throw away [their own] education”. In this collaborative environment, members “read each other’s essays”, especially assignments about Palestine and related topics, fostering a positive academic community. Ramallah19 felt that “in terms of academia, [they are] more studious and motivated here, at the encampment, than ever before.”

Since the encampment began, an

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increased presence of security appeared on the campus. The campus was also shut to those not affiliated with UCL, which has been condemned by Trade Unions, academics and students alike. The inaccessibility of the campus has, according to Ramallah19, “restricted the public from demonstrating in the heart of UCL, and from drawing attention to Michael Spence [The Provost] for his stance on the ongoing genocide”. Nonetheless, it was asserted that the “gates don’t divide [the movement], no matter what UCL management tries to do”. Ramallah19 went on to say that “the physical division does not show anything about our unity as a movement – we find ways to work around physical barriers, the barriers to liberation, like increased ID checks or surveillance”.

When asked about tension with securi ty, Ramallah19 replied that “it isn’t nec essarily the security here on the ground that we have issues with, those who are unionised are very friendly and amica ble towards us; they eat with us, we talk together, they’re amazing. It’s more the UCL security manage ment that causes problems”. Such problems include “taking down the flags and banners we put up overnight” and guards walking around filming the encampment with “body cameras”. Ramallah19 went on to explain that UCL’s management sent an email to all security staff “tell ing them that they can’t eat, or even drink chai, with [protestors] anymore”, yet The Cheese Grater cannot confirm this. The tension, therefore, is “between [the encamp ment] and the management” rather than the ground staff themselves, as they “aren’t the problem”. UCL SFJ, as stated by Ramallah19, have created a “flexible movement for everyone [including security staff] to show their solidarity to their fullest capacity, never forcing anyone to go beyond what they can do”.

UCL SFJ and other associated groups as a means of ensuring their own safety. The UCL encampment officially practises a “policy of ‘do not engage’”, as they feel as though counter protests are merely “there to make noise”. Ramallah19 noted that they refrain from reaction, “holding [them]selves back”, as the “Palestinian cause has been villainised for so long, that [they] cannot jeopardise the cause by acting out of impulse”. Ramallah19 expressed “fear” for those in the SOAS encampment, as they do not have “24/7 security and physical protection”, like the encampment at UCL. This testimony does call into question the extent to which SOAS, a constituent college of the University of London a mere 5 minutes away from UCL, are protecting their students and their right to protest.

have come to understand that to the oppressor, space and land is crucial to power and ownership”. The presence of the encampment has therefore turned the methods of spatial domination by UCL “on its head”, with the encampment’s “existence, in itself, a threat to the power of UCL and its management”. Drawing on UCL’s institutional benefit from the legacies of “British colonialism, racism, injustice and capitalism”, Ramallah19 argued that university management utilises space as a means of perpetuating a status quo, that the encampment “simply by existing... [is] disruptive and threatening” towards. The encampment’s weekly rallies, alongside speeches and teach-ins were argued to be “educating, mobilising and organising, waking people up to the truth about UCL”, highlighting the institution’s complicity with genocide, therefore showing the encampment to be “successful already”.

As with other encampments on campuses across the world, pro-Zionist counterprotestors have shown up outside UCL, on Gower Street, to voice their opposition to the pro-Palestinian protestors, who they see as anti-semitic and sympathising with terrorism. When asked about counter protesters, Ramallah19 explained that the UCL encampment does indeed “get counter-protestors, normally on saturday nights, but [the UCL encampment members] are lucky insofar as [they] have the fence which protects from antagonism”. Ramallah19 noted that “those at SOAS [where there is a similar encampment] aren’t so lucky” as they are more exposed to counter protestors, needing to call in support from

Many have been sceptical of the extent to which the encampment will actually cause real change in the institution. Indeed, the Provost’s recent emails signify that the demands of the encampment related to institutional divestment from arms companies and Israeli universities seem far away from being met. Ramallah19 admitted that “this is something that we have all thought about; we look at the encampments over in America and we are nowhere near as disruptive as them”. It is true that, when compared to the actions of students at UCLA or Colubmia, UCL’s encampment, and the institutional reaction towards their protest, has been quite tame. Nonetheless, after a teach-in at the encampment, Ramallah19 explained that those protesting “examine space through the eyes of the coloniser, through the eyes of the capitalist, and

When asked about how long the encampment would last, Ramallah19 said that “throughout history, these movements have taken time; we don’t expect to win overnight, we understand that change requires time and consistent effort, so we will not stop, we will not rest, until UCL discloses and divests, meeting our demands”. The encampment, alongside the occupation of the Jeremy Bentham Room earlier this year, has been the longest continuous protest movement in UCL’s recent history, having lasted longer than the student fees and anti-Eugenics protests respectively. Ramallah19 said that the encampment cannot stop after “two, three, four weeks, when it’s been 76 years [of interrupted life] for the Palestinians”. To Ramallah19 the encampment, “just by existing in this space, [is] being disruptive” to UCL’s perpetration of complicity with the genocide of the Palestinian people. Ramallah’s concluding remark was that the encampment, and many others across UCL, “want to exist in a just institution, so there is no shame in [protesters] trying and trying again to shape UCL into a place we want to see”.

When asked for comment, a UCL spokesperson said:

“Security staff continue to work hard to ensure the safety of UCL’s large community of students and staff. Their role is to ensure that everyone on the UCL campus is safe and secure and it is important that they remain neutral in regards to any protest that is taking place.”

Graphic by Nick Miao

& Investigations

Unfair Gordon Square

UCL History’s Accessibility Problem and the Inaction of UCL Estates

From the picture-perfect Portico to the houses lining Gordon Square, the historical charm of many of UCL’s oldest buildings is what makes them so iconic. However, this allure comes at the cost of accessibility. These buildings often lack lifts, automatic doors, accessible desk space, and many other necessities that might be required by UCL’s disabled students.

Houses 20-26 Gordon Square, home to both the History and Art History departments, are refurbished townhouses which lack lifts, have incredibly narrow corridors and have awkward doorways which make them particularly inaccessible.

With the only successful accessibility modification being an accessible bathroom in the basement of one of the houses, the general inaccessibility of the department is ‘plain to see’, as noted by a postgraduate History student who has a disability.

UCL has spent £1.25bn on accessibility consultation with AccessAble for new builds. Yet, places like the Gordon

Houses demonstrate that this spending has yet to improve many of UCL’s older buildings in regular use on campus. In fairness, it is difficult to imagine how UCL could improve the accessibility of the Gordon Houses. Given they date back to the 19th century, they would require a remodelling so thorough it would resemble a rebuild. However, a consultation of Camden Council’s planning regulations illustrates that there are feasible ways to make buildings like the Gordon Houses more accessible.

The Gordon Houses are Grade II listed buildings located within the Bloomsbury Conservation Area, where more stringent building regulations apply. However, Camden Council’s restrictions in this area mostly affect building exteriors, asserting that these must continue to represent the historical character of the area.

Therefore, UCL could feasibly refurbish the department’s interiors to be more accessible as long as their historic exteriors are preserved, as has been done with the similar houses across Gordon

Square which encompass UCL Institute of the Americas (IoA) and some Birkbeck Departments. Following in the footsteps of Birkbeck and the IoA, an internal remodel of the Gordon Square houses would greatly improve the experience of disabled students studying at UCL. Improving student experience for a marginalised group would certainly be worth the cost, but it’s unclear whether UCL has considered these options.

Nevertheless, UCL’s accessibility strategy seems to have prioritised new expensive developments like UCL East over refurbishing existing buildings. There is a great irony in the newly built, fully-specialised student centre being within fifty metres of Gordon Square’s heavy, non-functional power assisted doors with wooden frames which makes wheelchair access even harder.

Ultimately, details like this highlight the tension between UCL senior management and its departments. Antonio Sennis, the Head of Department for UCL History, told The Cheese Grater that the

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the department ‘consistently draw[s] the attention’ of UCL Estates to help make the Gordon Square houses more accessible. Sennis added that the department’s Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee has set accessibility issues as a priority. It is not Dr Sennis’ fault however, as accessibility and structural readjustment of buildings is a centrally controlled issue.

It is quite telling of how bad the situation is in the Gordon Square houses when one learns of how a postgraduate teaching assistant (PGTA) opted not to formally register as disabled because ‘it just wasn’t worth [the effort]’. Instead, they relied entirely on a ‘very good working relationship’ with the department, so their lessons could be held in a room they described as the ‘least inaccessible’. The PGTA’s choice to fully circumvent the accessibility administration is evidence of UCL’s systemic failings.

Challenges to accessibility are not only contained within the Gordon Square houses, they also impact several other departments within UCL. Many lack essential features like lifts, step-free access, or safe evacuation plans for wheelchair users. A third-year philosophy student, temporarily using a wheelchair due to an injury, described his experience as ‘isolating’ and highlighted the University-wide accessibility struggle.

He felt that the most accessible building was the Roberts Building, the modern home of the Engineering Department, because it has a disabled lift. The fact that a STEM faculty building was most accessible raises concerns about the long-term experience of disabled students not based in such departments.

Only six out of seventeen student study spaces are completely accessible to disabled people, including wheelchair users. These are the Bartlett Library, the Language and Speech Science Library, the Student Centre, Special Collections, and the UCL East library. Troublingly, nine out of the seventeen spaces do not have safe evacuation available for wheelchair users. This is incredibly concerning given that all students should be able to feel safe whilst studying at UCL.

Alongside this, many of the study spaces are still lacking disabled toilets, lifts, step free access. The IOE Library lacks a lift and accessible toilets. The Cruciform Hub, Great Ormond Street Library, and Archeology Library are not accessible in the case of emergency evacuation.

All this leaves only a limited amount of study space options open for disabled students. UCL’s approach to solving a lot of these issues, especially that of safe

evacuation, is contained within a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP).

A PEEP is a collaborative effort between disabled students, UCL departments, UCL Estates or Student Accommodation, and UCL Safety Services. It acknowledges the lack of accessible escape routes and outlines various strategies to ensure the safety of disabled students during emergencies.

These strategies include more immediate plans like making sure disabled students are near ground floor exits and assigning staff or student buddies for assistance. The alternative evacuation methods are more intense, involving evacuation chairs, refuges, and potentially evacuation mattresses, with proper training and planning emphasised for their safe and efficient use.

UCL’s PEEP is modelled to suit the needs of the individual and accounts for a wide array of factors. However, the simplicity and value of obtaining a PEEP is still debatable. Given that some students, like the History PhD candidate, felt it “wasn’t worth” registering as disabled, it appears that the process is not as straightforward as it should be.

She went on to explain that the process was thankless because registering as disabled at UCL “requires a lot of proof of the disability”. Student disability services are commonly perceived as being inaccessible due to the intensive evidence required to provide concessions. These demands are ironic given that they are difficult to attain due to the disabilities people have. Like many issues at UCL, it seems like registering as disabled is just another thing that involves too much bureaucratic entanglement.

In 2010, Parliament passed the Equality Act, a comprehensive act which offers legal protection from discrimination, and this includes discriminating against disabled individuals. Importantly, it extended previous disability anti-discrimination laws to include indirect discrimination, i.e. policies or practices that may not target a group, but nonetheless disadvantages them.

It also laid out the threshold for when reasonable adjustments must be made, like when “a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage” in comparison with people who are not disabled.

Following the 2010 Equality Act, UCL introduced the 2034 strategy which is distant enough to be near-irrelevant to current students facing accessibility barriers. Part of the far-off strategy

is inclusive design. It directly states the following aims: to create a physical environment that does not separate people based on disability; to ensure disabled people have choice in what they participate in; to ensure safe evacuation in case of an emergency regardless of disability. These are all crucial aims, to be sure, but as of 2018, a UCL report admitted that there is “not a clear picture of the accessibility of the built environment at UCL.”

The report stated that “some information is provided by the Accessible guides and there are some access audits of buildings”, but they also acknowledge that the guides give a “quantitative” representation of accessibility and are not indicative of how effectively accessibility efforts are being carried out. Still unknown are questions of accessibility within UCL classrooms and lecture theatres with wheelchair seating or an induction loop.

It is clear that UCL needs to make substantive improvements to create a truly accessible campus for disabled staff and students. When disabled students cannot access a significant proportion of the same spaces as their peers, their experience of university becomes disproportionately inconvenient for them to navigate, leaving them isolated and vulnerable.

Fully rectifying this issue is no doubt a difficult endeavour in financial terms – no student in the Gordon Houses wants to end up commuting 45 minutes to UCL East. Nevertheless, increasing the accessibility of campus is a vital exploit to ensure all students can experience UCL equally and fully.

News & Investigations
7 Summer Issue 2024 The Cheese Grater

The Provost’s Record on LGBTQ+ Support Sinks to a New Low

The Provost’s charity, Mercy Ships, wades into morally dubious waters.

Rebekah Wright

*The Cheese Grater has reached out to Dr Michael Spence’s Office for comment, but is yet to hear back from them

Michael Spence is UCL’s supreme leader – as our President and Provost he’s at the forefront of UCL’s national and international image (even if the vast majority of students have no idea who he is). But like all people in positions of power, Spence is not without his controversies.

Spence – who was previously employed as the Principal and Vice-Chancellor at University of Sydney (USyd), received a vote of no confidence whilst in this position which was ‘overwhelmingly’ supported by his fellow staff members. Charging USyd over AU$10,000 to fund his personal membership to the Oxford and Cambridge Club, to demonstrating that he had no idea how the process of reporting sexual harassment worked at USyd whilst his own institution called

accusations of inaction against endemic sexual harassment on campus ‘untrue’, it’s clear what led to such a decision.

Also relevant to Spence’s role in the spotlight are his non-UCL-related public activities. This might include, for example, his little-known role as an ordained Anglican priest or, as was recently brought to the attention of The Cheese Grater, his role as a trustee for the Christian international charity Mercy Ships.

Mercy Ships currently operates two hospital ships that provide free surgical operations for communities in Africa that would otherwise have limited access to proficient healthcare infrastructure. As with many charities and with Spence himself, Mercy Ships is not an organisation free from scandal.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge that Mercy Ships does engage in extremely important and life-saving humanitarian

work that has undoubtedly impacted the lives of many people living in Africa. Those working aboard the hospital ships, including the doctors and nurses, are volunteers who give up their own time to help others.

Like most charities, Mercy Ships has a Code of Conduct. This is, unsurprisingly, heavily influenced by Christian teachings and doctrine which, whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, is understandable. However, one clause highlighted to The Cheese Grater by a member of the UCL community is slightly more problematic given Spence’s role as UCL’s Provost. Under the subtitle ‘Sexual Immorality’ it states:

“Mercy Ships will not tolerate any form of sexual harassment, pornography, or immoral act (defined as any sexual contact between individuals who are not a legally married man and woman.”

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This is only a small clause, but Mercy Ships’ belief that homosexual marriages and relationships are illegitimate and immoral clashes starkly with UCL’s persistent rhetoric promoting diversity and inclusion. It also infers that relationships between those of the opposite sex outside of wedlock are immoral. In signing his name to a charity with such draconian conceptions of immorality, there is an evident and major conflict of interest with Spence’s affiliation to both Mercy Ships and UCL.

The obvious defence of the clause is that a rule invalidating homosexual marriage is in place because all five of the countries in which Mercy Ships claim they work have homophobic laws and cultures that would place members of the LGBTQ+ community at risk.

Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in Senegal and Cameroon. Being gay is legal in Guinea, Madagascar, and Benin, but gay marriage is illegal and a culture of homophobia is still largely prevelant. If you’re docked at a country’s port, you’re subject to their laws. Additionally, members of the LGBTQ+ community would likely be subject to discrimination in these places, where being gay is not widely accepted.

However, that does not excuse the existence of the clause in the format in which it is written. The language itself is incredibly problematic. It dubs same-sex sexual activity and marriage as ‘immoral’, instead of articulating that the clause is in place to protect LGBTQ+ volunteers who might be interested in volunteering with Mercy Ships. The phrasing of the clause insinuates that LGBTQ+ individuals would be unwelcome in the charity.

Similarly, by employing the term ‘immoral’, the clause places same-sex sexual activity and marriage in the same bracket as sexual assault or paedophilia. This heavily plays into some of the most common, long-standing, and vicious stereotypes that have been used to discriminate against the LGBTQ+ community for years.

Spence’s association with Mercy Ships is ultimately inconsistent with UCL’s stance on diversity and inclusion. Disappointingly, but unsurprisingly, the link to UCL’s ‘Equality and Diversity Strategy’ document on the University website is broken, and leads only to a screen reading ‘404: page not found’.

Nonetheless, the University Spence heads is openly pro-LGBTQ+ and is proud of its inclusion of gender and sexual minorities. Such pride is demonstrated through the existence of an Equity and Inclusion Sabbatical Officer, a Trans Officer, an LGBQ Officer, the LGBT+ Network, and UCL’s occasional flying of the pride flag over the Portico. This is evidently irreconcilable with Mercy Ship’s denotation of homosexuality as immoral.

A closer examination of UCL’s Disclosure of Conflict and Declaration of Interest Policy finds that it asserts that:

“Conflicts of interest are not discouraged and recognising a conflict of interest doesn’t imply improper conduct or lack of integrity.”

It’s important to recognise that Spence’s association with Mercy Ships doesn’t imply he is homophobic. Although, given UCL’s withdrawal from Stonewall under his tenure and his 2017 proclamation

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that the USyd would not publicly support the legalisation of same-sex in Australia, his record supporting LGBTQ+ students leaves much to be desired.

UCL’s policy on conflicts of interest also states that:

“[Conflicts of interest come about] often through circumstances entirely beyond [someone’s] control or which could not be foreseen”.

This aspect of the clause is far less favourable to Spence since he has been Provost of UCL since 2021 but on the Board of Trustees for Mercy Ships since 2022. One would expect, then, that he would have read the Code of Conduct before he joined and so would have been aware of the clause.

Obviously, however, Spence either did not fully read the Code of Conduct of the charity he would be guiding or he did and did not find the clause problematic. Both options reflect poorly upon him. As the figurehead of the UK’s biggest in-person university his role is inevitably a public one. This means that the personal views he chooses to espouse (or remain silent about) do matter.

The signals he sends by helping lead a seemingly homophobic charity, by presiding over UCL when it left Stonewall, or by refusing to institutionally support a national same-sex marriage referendum at USyd are significant for UCL’s LGBTQ+ students.

These decisions leave open the risk that Spence is seen not to care about LGBTQ+ issues. Moreover, the nature of his relationship with both Mercy Ships and UCL demonstrates that he sees no problem with a conflict of interest over such a significant issue. The existence of this conflict of interest, whether by oversight or indifference, shakes the trust placed in Spence as a leader that will stand up for all students at UCL, regardless of their sexuality. As the University so continuously exhibits its appreciation of its LGBTQ+ students, Spence’s conflicting associations risk isolating the LGBTQ+ community and undermining the institution’s commitment to inclusion.

The centring of yet another problematic story related to Spence further underscores the need for greater transparency and consistency within UCL. Otherwise the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion that are so vehemently preach risk being washed away as rhetoric with no leader willing to substantiate them.

Graphic by Anon White saviour moment. (Image: Mercy Ships on X)

The Bleak Reality of UCL History’s Redundancy Crisis

With a large number of academic staff facing unemployment at the end of the year, how viable is History’s reorganisation process?
Robert Delaney

Higher education is in a bad place. Those reading who were at UCL last year know exactly what I mean. Marking boycotts, strikes and post-coronavirus abnormalities have made this university a nightmare to navigate for teaching staff and students. Yet, despite all the disruption of the last few years, 2023/24 has been hailed as a great year for UCL; it is The Times’ University of the Year after all. Nonetheless, the reality of the university beneath the mirage of accolades is quite bleak. The History Department, located at 23-26 Gordon Square, is a prime example of this desolate, and rather desperate, reality.

Over the last few weeks, it has transpired that much of the History Department’s teaching staff will be made redundant at the end of the academic year. There are a considerable number of tutors being made redundant, who cover a wide range of subject areas and time periods. One source in the History Department told The Cheese Grater that the number of redundancies was as high as 12. Resulting from this exodus of teaching staff, there has been a great reduction in

the range of module choices for anyone studying History. Dr Jack Saunders, a lecturer of modern British History and the History Department’s University and College Union (UCU) representative, told The Cheese Grater of how this situation came to be, and what this means for the department more generally.

‘There will be double figure redundancies’, Dr Saunders explained, with he himself being one of the many prominent and well-liked academics facing unemployment come the end of the academic year. This, argued Dr Saunders, is resultant of “contingent hiring, short-term finance-driven decision making and the university’s lack of any real interest in continuity of employment or in staff-student relations”.

How, then, did this all start? Dr Saunders, an expert in British employment and trade union history, noted that UCL has ‘profited greatly’ from the removal of the cap on student numbers, announced in 2020 by Gavin Williamson

(the ex-education secretary and accidental national security threat) in response to the infamous A-Level algorithm crisis. Indeed, the “Covid year-groups” (those who joined UCL in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years) are the largest on record, and have provided ample fiscal incentive for keeping student numbers high.

Dr Saunders recalled there being ‘around 175-200 in each year group pre-Covid’, with this number exploding to ‘nearly 300 after Covid’ due to grade inflation and more people meeting the conditions of their offers than anticipated. The 2022/23 history department undergraduate headcount, which included those who joined in the aforementioned Covid cohorts, totalled 734 students, and accounted for nearly 18% of the Social and Historical Sciences Faculty undergraduate population (4130). The total undergraduate cohort of the History Department in the last academic year before Covid, 2018/19, totalled 611. Whilst the number of students across UCL is decreasing, it is unclear if UCL will ever return to pre-Covid

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levels as, to quote Dr Saunders, ‘to UCL, student numbers are everything’.

To cope with the larger cohorts that enrolled at the start of the 2020/21 and 2021/22 academic years, respectively, UCL hired new teaching staff. As Dr Saunders explained, academics, like himself, were brought into UCL on ‘fixed-term contracts, to cope with the expanded student numbers.’ Dr Saunders has been on fixed-term contracts for over a decade now, telling The Guardian in 2022 that, because of the lack of permanence in his employment, ‘each job is a stop-gap’. This contingent hiring via impermanent contracting has been cited by the UCU as part of their Four Fights against university management. With such wide-spread use of these impermanent contracts, Dr Saunders noted that UCL (and other universities across the country) ‘disregard staff and academic continuity and coherence’. Ultimately, once such contracts run out, they are rarely renewed in the long term.

Not only are those who were employed on fixed-contracts during the Covid-19 Pandemic facing redundancy, but even some of those employed prior to the pandemic are losing their jobs. One such academic, who has asked to remain anonymous, told The Cheese Grater that it ‘seems that everyone [losing their jobs] is being targeted’. The academic also explained that UCL is failing to engage with him via a ‘consultation exercise’, designed to mitigate the effects of a redundancy ‘with an open mind’. Such a consultation is legally mandated for those who have been employed at the same place for over 2 years, and yet UCL, according to this out-going lecturer, has not made any attempt to ‘engage in this type of discussion in an open-minded way’. Moreover, the academic explained that there has been no offer of ‘suitable alternative employment’ in the department, which is also a legal obligation. This is despite a new role being created that is almost identical to the academic’s current position. The reason he has not been offered this position is stated by UCL to be due to the pay scaling, which despite remaining at Grade 8 in both roles, has been contrived and stated by UCL to the UCU as being a promotion, and thus not ‘suitable’. This practice, which could be considered a form of ‘fire and rehire’, is a complex legal issue, but it seems as though UCL is doing its best to avoid and evade taking legal responsibility to ensure academic continuation.

Due to such issues, many refrain from contesting suspected instances of unfair dismissal due to the difficulty of winning against wealthy institutions like UCL. As such, the endemic casualisation of labour in UCL, and higher education institutions

more generally, has left countless academics without steady employment. It seems Dr Saunders is right to say that ‘UCL doesn’t care about institutional memory or the economic security of its staff’.

What does this all mean for students and staff still in the History Department?

According to Dr Saunders, for staff who avoid redundancy the ‘workload will increase a lot’. With student numbers remaining higher than pre-Covid levels, but teaching staff decreasing, the ‘already high workload of tutors and post-graduate teaching assistants will increase dramatically’. Staff wages are also not going up with the rate of inflation, spelling out more work for less money for those who remain. Whilst UCL History has advertised five new permanent job openings, they do not account for all those who will be forced out by the end of this academic year.

For students, the redundancies spell out two main things. First, module diversity has been decimated and choices of study are therefore limited. This will evidently impact dissertations, the crescendo of any humanities degree. One second-year history student, Lily, told The Cheese Grater that ‘I feel as though my dissertation, which is what I have been building up to over the last two years, is severely limited now’. Lily went on to talk about how ‘there are barely any modern British special subjects [her area of interest], and all the rest are really niche’. Moreover, Lily spoke of how she chose modules according to lecturers due to her dyslexia, as ‘some are much better than others with that sort of thing’. But with the redundancies, ‘all the lecturers [she] had a good working relationship with are gone’. One first-year historian, who decided to remain anonymous, explained that it is ‘greatly disappointing to see such a lack of variety in what I can study next year’ and expressed anxiety about potentially ‘being forced into unfamiliar subject areas for [his] second-year research paper’.

Another History student, Annabelle, noted that her ‘experience at UCL has been defined by [her] professors’. She explained that ‘there are a handful of brilliant and talented tutors who have truly made my time [at UCL] enjoyable, without whom my final year will not be the same’. In response to the situation, Annabelle said that the ‘redundancies are unjust, not only for the hardworking individuals they impact, but also for the students they leave behind. Our education is being compromised and, our module selection minimised, and our passion for learning threatened by the loss of those academics who have inspired us’.

The abovementioned academic suffer-

ing from a case of seemingly unfair dismissal also told The Cheese Grater that their modules were incredibly popular, so there was no business case for their dismissal. This is the same with many others losing their roles at the end of the year. The academic noted that ‘students often ask me if there are spaces on my programme every year’, to which they have to answer ‘no’. This begs the question of why UCL is making positions redundant that draw students to the History Department in the first place?

As another first-year historian noted, the situation is an ‘absolute state’, where the ‘experience of the students... does not feel like the faculty’s priority’. The Cheese Grater can report that one Department Leader said in a full-year lecture to the first-year cohort that students should embrace ‘different time periods and subject areas than [they are] used to’ when considering their second-year module selections (supposedly due to the great limitation in European, economic and intellectual history modules available – which are generally the most popular). But when your dissertation and Master’s applications can rely on what you study and write your research paper on, the limited module choice seems to hinder the future prospects of students whose interest lies outside of the parameters of the History Department’s narrowed module prospectus.

The redundancies show that UCL cares not for their students’ role as a ‘consumer’. With the marketisation of higher education, something that has been critical in making universities neoliberal hellscapes, the student has been poised as a customer, rather than a learner. University is now meant to be a means to a greater end, with that end solely being employment. But even with this in consideration, the way in which UCL has treated their students here shows the ‘customer’ to have nearly no say in how the service, for which they pay upwards of £9250/year, is provided. Much of the money coming from student fees is spent on the assumption that the range of modules available would not be mutilated at such short notice. Indeed, this evidences the monopoly UCL has over its ‘customers’ and begs the question of how much the institution really cares for the fulfilment of their students’ requests.

Ultimately, the situation is bleak. Staff in the History Department close to The Cheese Grater have

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noted that many of those facing redundancy have accepted defeat and know that student action will do little to prevent what they see as the inevitable. This is a sad reality, of course, and highlights how little UCL seems to care for its staff members. Those losing their jobs are staff members who took on the essential role of teaching during the pandemic and have seen their pay rise little during the ongoing cost of living crisis. Moreover, the senior leadership’s disconnection from the daily lives of those who actually run the university, namely students and academics, is pronounced and shows the extent to which the university seemingly cares not for its most essential components. As the slogan of the Generation UCL exhibition in the Portico goes, ‘there is no university without students’, but to what extent does UCL actually believe in this statement?

A UCL spokesperson said:

‘The UCL History department is a research-led department where core activity, including teaching, is delivered by staff on academic (teaching and research) contracts in line with the department’s academic strategy. During the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting upheaval and uncertainty, UCL saw unexpected growth in student numbers which required some departments to develop contingency plans to cope with the increased student numbers; this required some fixed-term contracts as a temporary measure. Now that student numbers have returned to pre-Covid levels, the Department of History is undergoing a re-organisation which includes a consultation process involving all members of staff affected.‘

very clear that at least 10-15% of ‘Teaching’ members of staff’s workload must be dedicated to research. In fact, in our department, it has been customary since then to give all ‘Teaching’ staff one full day of research time (i.e. 20% of the total workload). Moreover, our department has unanimously agreed that ‘Teaching’ staff’s research output would be cellence Framework submission. This shows, at best, that ‘Teaching’ staff are, de facto, fully regarded as research active, and, at worst, that our department simply wants

to take all the kudos coming from our research, without allowing us any of the benefits that ought to come with it. But this also shows something more insidious, namely that these ‘Teaching’ contracts are, in every respect, academic contracts with a much higher teaching load, which confirms their highly exploitative nature (which is widely acknowledged).

and fixed-term (i.e. having an end date and therefore not open-ended) contracts. The legal ambiguity that UCL is exploiting is nothing but a means of casualising its staff indefinitely. By the way, claiming that these contracts are “fixed term” is very problematic for another reason: the statement you received from UCL implies that the selection for redundancy was made on the basis of the fixed-term nature of these contracts, which are, in fact, common to all people who were pooled as being at risk of redundancy. This is simply illegal, as per the Fixed Term Employees (prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002, which unambiguously states that selection for proposed redundancy cannot be made solely on the basis of the fixed-term of the employee’s contract.

3. The above statement entirely (and, in my view, wilfully) neglects that at least 4 people involved in this process had regular ‘open-ended’ contracts.

4. The rationale for the redundancy, according to this statement, is the department’s return to “pre-Covid levels”. This is understandable, but, if that is the case, there is simply no business case for the redundancy of those 4 members of staff who have been in post since before the pandemic, but who are also at risk of redundancy for no real reason.

5. Finally, the statement claims that UCL History’s “core activity, including teaching, is delivered by staff on academic contracts, in line with the department’s academic strategy”. This offers absolutely no explanation as to why two teaching contracts have been ring-fenced and declared immune from this ‘reorganisation’.

The anonymous academic responded to the UCL Statement with the following:

1. This dichotomy between ‘Teaching’ and ‘Academic’ contracts is simply a farce: the Terms & Conditions of Academic appointments, and those of ‘Teaching’ contracts are basically identical. It must likewise be emphasised that the 2020 Teaching Concordat makes it

2. While it is true that UCL “saw unexpected growth in student numbers”, they did not issue “fixed-term contracts”. The contracts they issued, instead, were “open-ended with an expected end date”. This is a legal fiction that has no basis in the law, which recognises only permanent (i.e. open-ended with no end date)

All of the above amounts to unfair and therefore unlawful treatment of staff by the Department.

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“This is Not Business as Usual” UCL Stands for Justice Escalate

Protests as University Fails to Meet Demands

Palestinian activists of UCL Stands for Justice (SFJ), a student-led coalition, have escalated their protests, disrupting awards ceremonies hosted by the Students’ Union last week, The Cheese Grater reports.

SFJ has been maintaining an encampment on the Main Quad since May 2 2024, with three main demands for the university: Divestment from arms companies “complicit in the Israeli genocide of Palestinians.” Condemnation of Israeli war crimes. A pledge to rebuild the destroyed education system in Gaza, through collaborations with Palestinian universities and scholarships for Palestinian students.

As of June 7 2024, none of these demands have been met in any concrete sense:

On April 26 2024, members of Senior Management met with UCL Action for Palestine (AFP), an autonomous group of UCL staff and students sep-

arate from SFJ, with similar demands. During this meeting, AFP “secured a commitment” from UCL to “secure philanthropic funding for scholarships for Palestinian students”. In the 6 weeks since that meeting, there appear to have been no updates on this funding.

In the same meeting, the Provost also “committed to reviewing [UCL’s] partnership” with Tel Aviv University. Similarly, there have been no updates since.

Since the beginning of the protests, the Provost has remained firm on the issue of divestment from arms manufacturers. In his second ‘Provost’s Update’ email on May 14 2024, he explicitly rejected the call for divestment, arguing that UCL has “well thought through processes for research ethics and for ethical investment that operate to ensure that we both respect the principle of academic freedom and that our research and investments

do as much good as possible, and our activity is compatible with our values.”

“Following a month of silence and intimidation tactics deployed by the administration, we are left with no other option than to escalate our movement,” SJF commented in their statement released June 5 2024.

This escalation included bringing the protest to the end of year Students’ Union awards, including the Sports Awards, Volunteering Awards, Arts Awards and Societies Awards.

Notably, upon securing two awards at the Societies Awards on Friday May 31, UCL’s Pokemon Society staged a walkout in support of the protesters. In a conversation with The Cheese Grater, the Pokesoc committee stated, “It is an honor to have won the Innovative Online Engagement Award and Overall Society of the year this year, but also

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Protestors in the Foyer of the Bloomsbury Theatre (via @robertjdelaney3 on X)

for standing in solidarity with the ongoing pro-Palestinian protests at UCL... Of course we should recognize and celebrate our successes as a small society in UCL however it didn’t sit right with us to just carry on without doing something.”

In the case of the Arts Awards, students left the auditorium, and the event was discontinued halfway through. The response as well as the account of the events that occurred at the Arts Awards on later that evening in particular has been mixed, and often, inconsistent in terms of narrative. Students inside the Bloomsbury Theatre were told that protesters outside had tickets, wanted to attend the awards, and were not being let in. In response, students exited the auditorium and chanted “Let them in” for several minutes until they were allowed in. Later on, others claimed that it was planned to be a staged walkout and the protestors’ intentions were not to attend the ceremony on Friday night.

While many students allegedly aligned with the rhetoric and demands of the protestors, many felt cornered and confused by the way in which the protest was conducted, specifically at the Arts Awards. For instance, many students reportedly felt uncomfortable by the way in which the event was documented on camera by protestors with no discernible way to opt out.

In response to this escalation, the President and Provost Michael Spence sent an email to staff and students on Tuesday June 4 regarding the incidents at the Students’ Union Awards; namely the awards that took place on Friday 31st May. In the email, he describes the escalation of activities by protestors as “unacceptable behaviour”, further stating that while UCL must balance the rights and responsibility of protestors to exercise their “right to protest’’, it must keep the “safety and wellbeing of the UCL community” paramount. The Provost goes on to detail in the aforementioned email that a “group of students” from the encampment on UCL’s Main Quad deliberately “targeted” the Arts Awards as well as the earlier Societies Awards with the “help of a number of external members of the public”.

According to his statement, “disciplinary action” has been taken against the students involved in what he described as “intimidating and escalatory” activities. These activities, according to Spence’s statement, included “physical assault”

of security on-site, “damage to property”, and “antisemitic” chants. It should be noted that in their statement released June 5, SFJ unequivocally denies the allegations of assault and antisemitism, referring to them as “false”, “baseless”, and a “blatant attempt to malign [their] reputation”. The Cheese Grater can confirm that a small unit of 3 officers from The Metropolitan Police were allowed onto campus on Tuesday June 4th, presumably to scout out the encampment in preparation for further action.

The Provost goes on to apologise, stating that students reported felt “unsafe” and afraid in an event meant to both celebrate and recognise their achievements. All remaining planned events on campus have been put under review with possible postponements and cancellations to safeguard students and mitigate further actions taken by protestors. The Education Awards - originally scheduled for Wednesday June 5 - has been postponed to a currently unspecified later date after talks with the Students’ Union and event organisers.

On the very same day, a statement was issued via email from the Students’ Union Director of Student Experience Carl Salton-Brooks regarding Friday’s incident.

In this email, Salton-Brooks describes the unanticipated and “hostile” nature of the protest’s disruption of student events. Support for the rights of those in the Main Quad encampment was thoroughly highlighted by Salton-Brooks, who clearly identifies and draws a line between the “broad aims of the protests’’ in the encampment, and the antithetical “threatening” activities of protestors on Thursday and Friday’s awards which were specifically meant to disrupt students, volunteers and societies. He acknowledges the students who support the same aims of the protestors but outlines that the use of “racist language and violence” will not be tolerated as a way of communicating those aims. He furthermore describes these disruptive events as including members of the public outside of UCL.

As of now, SFJ has doubled down on their escalations: “If the Provost continues to refuse negotiations, we are ready to act immediately with the urgency that the ongoing genocide demands”. UCL Alumni for Palestine have also expressed support of the escalatory actions and simultaneously expressed solidarity with suspended students, stating on June 6, “We de-

mand UCL lifts suspensions and retract statements vilifying student protesters.”

Rats, Floods, ‘Fermented Pineapple Juice’

An investigation into the continued failures

of UCL Estates

Robert Delaney, Malvika Murkumbi, Mayra Nassef, and Andrea Bidnic

A year in student accommodation is a rite of passage for most undergraduate students at UCL. From the luxury of Garden Halls to the abject squalor of Ifor Evans, UCL accommodation is diverse in its residents, rents, and general demeanour. As such, there is a great disparity in the quality of each hall.

Regardless of where you found yourself living (or surviving) in your first year, if you’ve been at UCL for a while, you will have some knowledge of the recurrent maintenance issues that persistently arise. From mice to menacing arsonists, accommodation maintenance has consistently been a problem at UCL, with the university seemingly doing very little to solve the issues at hand.

In the 2023-24 academic year, things seem to have gotten worse for the residents of UCL’s halls of residence. Issues ranging from rodent infestations to flooding have not been confined to UCL’s main campus. Whilst mice reappeared in SSEES and the Rare FM studio, they have also managed to wriggle their way back into Schafer House and the UCL Main Library. Whilst the Huntley flooded, so did Ramsay Hall.

Ultimately, the inadequate maintenance of UCL accommodation does not meet the expectations of residents. Many pay upwards of £350 per week to live in halls where people shit in the showers and the structural integrity of their room isn’t guaranteed. This is a failure on behalf of the University.

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The diversity of maintenance problems within UCL accommodation is genuinely impressive, and it isn’t just restricted to the same couple of halls.

When temperatures fell below zero in January, residents from Schafer House, St Pancras Way, Ramsay Hall, and John Dodgson House were forced to take several cold showers, owing to recurring plumbing faults. Electricity problems are also reoccurring. The Cheese Grater was also told about both lights and lifts that spend more time broken than working. A frustrated Schafer House resident stated: “I had no lights in my room for about two weeks when I moved in. I complained about it every day but they only fixed it after the second week.”

The resident at John Dodgson House recalls maintenance issues commencing only a few days after moving in. What was initially a leaky shower became an almost floor-wide disaster after “water came through and flooded” her “friend’s room, and two other rooms”.

This resulted in a “massive hole in the ceiling” which was finally fixed by maintenance after three weeks. The Cheese Grater was also told about a myriad of other

plumbing issues including water-heating and shower problems. John Dodgson House spent the 2022/2023 academic year under renovation, so it’s peculiar that these maintenance issues are so prevalent.

Similarly, over at Ramsay Hall, residents have also become resigned to the constant plumbing issues: clogged toilets, heating issues, and four separate floods. The toilets also appear to be poorly ventilated and smell foul – “It always smells really odd and they don’t seem to be doing anything about it,” a resident commented. Another student’s dripping sink was not fixed all term, despite them reporting it.

Unsurprisingly, Schafer House faces a similar grim story, once again exemplifying UCL’s profound negligence when it comes to the quality of maintenance: faulty heating, mice, mouldy seats, and lights being out for extraordinarily long periods of time.

Intercollegiate halls and external student accommodations affiliated with UCL seem to also be subject to the same hassles as UCL-only accommodations. Garden Halls, which is intercollegiate, has also been having toilet-related issues. A resident described issues

with her “toilet flusher” which “keeps breaking”. “They keep fixing it cheaply” she continued, highlighting the poor quality of UCL’s repairs and their unwillingness to solve issues long-term.

She also told The Cheese Grater about the poor quality of the hall’s catering, describing “mouldy oranges” and “fermented pineapple juice” that have clearly “gone off”. Residents at external accommodations, namely Urbanest King’s Cross and Unite St. Pancras Way, also reported heating issues.

Temperatures tend to operate in a pendulum swing, often being “scalding” hot or freezing cold. For Urbanest King’s Cross, this is reportedly a water temperature issue, whilst for St. Pancras Way, it is more of a room temperature matter as described by a resident: “it’s always too hot or too cold”. They explained that either “the radiator either doesn’t turn on or doesn’t turn off.” What is apparent is how unfair it is that residents have to be consistently uncomfortable in accommodation they have paid so much money to stay in.

Despite frequent reporting of these maintenance issues by residents, they seem to keep coming up, and it appears

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that requests for maintenance upkeep are completely ignored. Residents of both Ramsay Hall and John Dodgson House told The Cheese Grater that when they reported issues to the reception, they were recorded on a piece of paper and subsequently ignored.

When Housing and Accommodation does decide to fix the issue, this can take up to three weeks or even a whole term, only for the problem to return in the near future. A St Pancras Way resident mentioned that, “Every few weeks we get an email about there being no hot water, or [no] water at all, affecting some of the flats.”

“It doesn’t feel like UCL is invested in anything other than quick fixes,” remarked a Ramsay Hall resident. When these issues are ignored or temporarily fixed, reporting them can start to feel pointless – an increasing number of residents have become resigned to the sub-standard maintenance and don’t bother reporting issues anymore. “I don’t feel like I’m being taken very seriously,” a first-year from Ramsay Hall lamented. Ultimately, It seems as though UCL are more concerned about cost-cutting measures than the safety of their students.

There’s an air of reluctant resignation when it comes to the way in which students are dealing with these issues. They are so recurrent that, as one Ramsay Hall resident aptly put it, “people just learn to live with it”, facilitating UCL to continue not acting to permanently fix the repeated issues highlighted above.

While students can try to react to these situations with zest and humour, there’s certainly nothing funny about the expense of living in London. “To have that many maintenance issues when you’re paying that much...”, a John Dodgson House resident expressed, mirroring many of our interviewees’ qualms with the ridiculous gap between price and accommodation quality.

At best, UCL accommodation is a safe and assured place to live in London. For many international students it’s “convenient” to rely on UCL Accommodation as they are new to the country and its complex (and frankly unfair) rental model.

For most students, these maintenance issues can be the “tipping point” when stressed, ill, or when trying to study. “UCL Accommodation is just a terrible landlord” a Ramsay Hall resident states.

The worrying conditions and terrible service to renters is even more deplorable considering UCL increased their accommodation prices by 11.1% last year – the maximum legally authorised based on annual inflation rate. This further exacerbates the cost-of-living crisis for students. A single non-en-suite room in Langton Close, one of UCL’s cheapest halls, rose from £185.50 in 2022/2023 to £204.89 per week this year, further making UCL a place only accessible to the richest students.

When asked about the current situation, the Students’ Union Accommodation & Housing Officer, Lucas Dastros-Pitei, explained that even though “UCL Estates tries their best”, issues “are bound to happen”, adding that “some issues are fixed and solved really quickly, others not so much”. So much for Hall Reps being “elected to represent your needs as students living in UCL Halls and throughout London”.

Lucas also told The Cheese Grater that when he questioned UCL Estates about the repeated floods incidents, he was told it was caused by “unprecedented amounts of rain”.

We would have appreciated to hear his view on other key aspects of the issue, and notably on he concerning rent increase, as “work[ing] with the SU to urge UCL Estates to freeze rent in the face of rising inflation” ranked second amongst his top priorities in his manifesto. He however decided to cut the interview short, despite it being booked in advance.

These interview conditions were incredibly disappointing. The discussion was given over the phone as the officer was walking in a busy street, and he appeared more than hurried to put an end to it. Whilst we understand this is a time-consuming position fulfilled by a full-time student, and that maintenance issues are not directly Lucas’ fault, clear and appropriate communication, as well as standing up for students who elected you as their representative, is vital.

Though UCL’s intentions may be to provide an alternative to the stressful search for standard housing, this is entirely negated by such repetitive maintenance issues which remain unattended to. Evidently, it’s incredibly unfair that students pay so much money to live with leaks, broken locks, broken lights, heating issues, and flooding amongst a plethora of other problems.

Students deserve to live in spaces where they can feel safe and at home, instead of having to consistently report that their toilet doesn’t flush. We can only hope that one day UCL Accommodation decides to start taking maintenance issues more quickly and seriously.

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Down Your Union: Cheese Grater Journalist Makes Sabb Cry In Meeting

Activities and Engagement Officer Aria Shi, right, pictured tearing up during Questions to Officers at the final Activities Zone meeting on 28th May 2024.

Something is wrong with democracy at the Students’ Union. We may have held onto the impressive record of holding the largest student election in the UK, with 11,177 voters, or 23.8% of UCL’s student population. But we also re-elected, by a significant majority, a sabbatical officer who was unashamedly open about her ‘lazy’ attitude towards the role.

I am, of course, talking about none other than Activities and Engagement Officer Aria Shi, whose shock resignation - almost as shocking as her re-election victory - will come to offer a massive sigh of relief for anyone who has vaguely been involved in clubs and societies.

Since the Pi article failed to go anywhere near the heart of the issue, The Cheese Grater (awarded best publication) has once again been left to do their job. So, at the last Union Activities Zone meeting, I took the opportunity to ask Aria a number of rapid-fire questions reviewing her tenure as a sabb.

These questions, I should add, were based on what she had actually done (or claimed to have done) as Activities Officer in her written reports, not what she said she would do during her leadership campaign (which involved a lot of fantasy economics and broken promises).

I began by asking her about the ‘arts and cultural exchange initiative’ that she had begun talks for with Fudan University in China. I told her that I wasn’t convinced that students would actually see an exchange programme come to fruition because I couldn’t find anything on the Fudan side reciprocating the initiative.

Aria couldn’t give me a straight answer. She said that ‘[Fudan] couldn’t do anything at the moment. We were aiming in the summer to do something online about culture’, but at this stage, they were still ‘discussing the details’. Clearly struggling to come up with a substantial response, Postgraduate Officer Issy Smith came to the rescue and told me that,

as part of the Student Life Strategy, the Union will be ‘hiring an intercultural engagement manager who will be leading a lot of these international exchanges’.

I then asked Aria about the infamous sleeping pods, which she was still pledging to do in her re-election campaign. In her March Report, she said that she was ‘working to coordinate the timely launch of the Napping Zone’. Were this to go ahead, this would become the fourth sleeping pod pilot scheme in the last decade: one in 2014, one in 2019, one in 2022 under Welfare and Community Officer Umair Mehmood (an equally incompetent sabb, for those who remember), and now hers.

I put it to Aria that this is another vanity project by an out-of-ideas sabb, and that if her pilot isn’t substantially different from previous pilots, then it amounts to a waste of Union resources. In Aria’s defence, she did

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narrowly escape joining the ranks of Umair as a sleeping pod sabb by failing to launch the pilot altogether, blaming UCL for ‘not giving us the space for it’. This is ironic because spaces were a core part of her initial campaign in 2023.

Aria responded by saying the fact that this idea had been proposed four times suggests ‘[Students] actually want and need [the sleeping pods]. I don’t see it as wasting resources because we actually need it’. I’m not sure if there is a conflation between want and need. I’m also not sure if this policy falls within the purview of ‘activities and engagement’, something she appears to have absolutely zero interest in even though that is quite literally her job title, evident from her mysterious absence at this year’s Arts Awards. At any rate, she insisted that this is why the Union building (which is Union President Mary McHarg’s policy) is so important, because UCL would always prioritise spaces for teaching before other things.

Lastly, I asked Aria about her notorious campaigning tactics at the Leadership Race, having received a 48-hour ban on campaigning for breaking the Union’s election rules. I put it to her that her strategy of mobilising the support of the largest ethnic group on campus to vote for her along communal lines, evident from her rule-breaking posters which (only in the Chinese version) included nationalist rhetoric such as ‘Chinese people do not lie to Chinese people’, is tantamount to ethno-populism.

Aria began her response by saying that Chinese students, who account for the vast majority of UCL’s international student body, have historically had low engagement rates with the Union. She described herself as an ‘atypical AEO [Activities and Engagement Officer]’ in that she focuses on the ‘engagement’ side of things: ‘AEO doesn’t just represent active members’, she says. ‘There are people out there being neglected by clubs and societies’ who are ‘not feeling welcome or wanted’.

Aria then began tearing up as she spoke about her experience of feeling excluded from clubs and societies as an undergraduate student. As she left the room, she added ‘I just want to say, I totally understand some people are not happy about me being [re-]elected, but there’s no point to raise it as a collective Chinese issue. What’s the point of targeting the whole nation, when you think

the problem is the body problem? [sic]’

I think it’s helpful at this point to note that I am Chinese myself and did not intend to raise the question as a ‘collective Chinese issue’. I think it is fair that Aria is concerned about the low engagement rates among Chinese students at UCL, and I think it’s terrible that anyone should feel unwelcome in our clubs and societies.

My concern is the dangerous precedent that Aria’s successive campaigns have set for future sabbatical candidates. Her strategy of targeting a specific ethnic group with nationalist rhetoric - at the cost of alienating others - has proved to be so successful that she won her re-election despite having absolutely nothing to show for it. Aria isn’t wrong in saying that the Activities and Engagement Officer shouldn’t only represent active and engaged members. But I’m not convinced that she has been an Activities and Engagement Officer for all UCL students in her endeavour to be ‘UCL’s first Chinese Activities and Engagement Officer’.

I also worry that we are already seeing the consequences of the precedent that Aria has set. Of the six candidates who won their sabbatical post in this year’s Leadership Race, four were on some kind of ethnic or nationalist slate. It certainly didn’t fill me with confidence when Equity and Inclusion Officer-elect Eda Yildirimkaya’s campaign team began waving the Turkish flag on the podium at the results ceremony. The joke almost writes itself.

UCL students are spared from another year of Aria’s incompetence, whovery fortunately - received an offer to study at Columbia University. But her tenure and her re-election victory will serve well both as an alarm bell for the state of student democracy at UCL and a warning for those who come next. I wish Aria all the best in her future endeavours, but I hope to God that she will never be allowed back into public office.

The Students’ Union and Activities Officer Aria Shi have both issued their response to this article, which can be accessed on our website at

Image courtesy of SUUCL

Inside the SU Deep State Nick Miao

Sabbatical Officers at Students’ Union UCL (SU) are elected in cross-campus elections once a year to represent the student voice at the highest level, both within the University and the Union. They sit on the UCL Council, the University’s governing body, and collectively determine the strategic direction of the Union, each chairing a different ‘policy zone’. They also routinely appear in your email inbox in the form of weekly newsletters which, let’s be honest, barely anyone reads.

At least, this is the picture that both UCL and the Union try to paint. But an investigation by The Cheese Grater has revealed that elected sabbatical officers were largely kept in the dark when it came to what kind of policies were being submitted to the Union’s various policy zones, a process that was, until very recently, monopolised by the Union’s senior management.

The Union’s senior management is a team of permanent staff, composed of the Chief Executive (yes, there is a CEO at the SU), the Director of Student Experience, the Director of Policy, Governance, and Advocacy, Director of Finance, and the Director of Operations.

The reason why hardly anyone knows about the ‘senior management team’ is that none of these positions are elected by the student body. Rather, these are real adults put in charge of actually running the Union on a day-to-day basis, maintaining the continuity of Union operations as well as acting in its ‘best interests’ as advisors to the Board of Trustees.

On paper, we can think of the senior management team as the people responsible for the execution of policies enacted by student representatives, from your Sabbatical Officers to your average student reps. It is also understood that senior management routinely works with the sabbatical leadership on major policy and operational decisions.

In reality, what is considered to be in the ‘best interests’ of the Union is largely down to the discretion of the senior management team. For example, Union sources have told us that senior management (with the help of some lawyers) has had considerable input over the precise wording of the Union’s official response to the ongoing genocide in Palestine.

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It is understood that this intervention was made over concerns about legal compliance with the Education Act 1994, which sets out what students’ unions can or cannot do.

The senior management team’s ability to wield considerable effective power behind closed doors is questionable, not only because they are unelected but also because of the lack of transparency over who they are and what they do. In a recent policy zone meeting in January 2024, the opacity of the Union’s structures and democratic process prompted Non-Portfolio Societies Representative Seth Harris to question whether his policy proposal, which was ‘pushed back’ for a second time without a clear explanation, was being intentionally filibustered by senior management.

In an interview with The Cheese Grater, Seth told us that he was only given ‘vague answers and the occasional awkward silence’ when he confronted Union staff about the delay at an internal meeting. ‘At the time, nobody wanted to tell me what was going on, as though they were trying to hide something,’ he said, ‘It was only after sending multiple follow-up emails asking for further clarification that senior management agreed to meet me.’

In response to the accusation, Union staff at the Democracy and Representation Team explained to student representatives the filtering process that student

policy proposals undergo before they even get reviewed by elected student representatives. The staff member also added that ‘we don’t usually show this to people’.

The staff member explained that this was a ‘collective process’ involving backand-forth feedback between the policy proposer, the relevant operations teams, and the senior management team before a policy makes it to the zone. The staff member went on to explain that ‘sometimes a policy proposal does not need to go to a policy zone. It could be an operational issue dealt with internally’.

The problem with this process is that none of this, nor the role of the senior management team, is mentioned in any of the Union’s governing documents. The evident opacity over who they are and what they do makes it incredibly difficult for student representatives and student media to hold responsible actors accountable for their actions. When Equity & Inclusion Officer Ahmad Ismail asked whether there is a limit on how long a policy can be considered by senior management, the staff member admitted that ‘there is very little in the bylaws about the policy zones apart from the fact that they exist’.

Source: Students’ Union UCL. This graphic is a recreation of the slideshow presented to zone members by Union staff on the Democracy and Representation Team.

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Another problem is that our sabbatical officers, who are meant to chair the zones and set the strategic direction for the Union, are not even mentioned in this process. In that same meeting, the Sabbatical Officers were shocked to hear that Seth’s policy proposal was delayed yet again, presumably stuck somewhere in the filtering process. Despite Activities & Engagement Officer Aria Shi’s assertion, ‘[o]f course I oversee all the policies’ – her only contribution during the entire discussion – other Sabbatical Officers present were left practically in the dark. According to another Union source, Postgraduate Officer Issy Smith was said to be quite upset that they weren’t told anything about the policy proposal beforehand, with the Sabb reportedly saying that it ‘made us look like clowns’ for not being able to answer any of Seth’s questions.

This begs the question of just how ‘student-led’ the Students’ Union is when the elected sabbatical leadership were not even informed of the various student policies that were submitted to the Union for consideration.

The Cheese Grater understands that this process has now been changed to involve the input of sabbatical officers as a direct result of that zone meeting in January. Student policy proposals are now brought to the sabbatical officers’ attention at their routine meetings with the senior management team. Seth’s policy was eventually brought to the most recent policy zone meeting in February and approved unanimously by elected student reps, three months after it was initially proposed.

Nonetheless, the question remains whether senior management would have changed its long standing habit of operating behind closed doors. Indeed, had it not been for the efforts of one very insistent and frankly irritating student rep who was adamant about seeing his policy proposal through the Union’s impossibly opaque bureaucracy, it is unclear whether it would ever have seen the light of day, let alone any changes to senior management’s practice of excluding our elected sabbatical officers from certain decision-making processes.

The delays to Seth’s policy also served to demonstrate how the lack of transparency at the highest levels of the Union can be destructive to trust, having once theorised that the delays were part of a larger conspiracy by senior management to cover up a policy failure. ‘It was actually quite underwhelming to find out there is no conspiracy or official cover-up,’ Seth told us in an interview, ‘They are just kind of shit at the job.’ The truth,

as it turns out, echoes the saying: ‘Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence.’

Incompetence is costly. The lack of trust, transparency, and general awareness of the Union’s democratic structures opens the door to exploitation by opportunistic individuals who know just enough about the Union to game the system. The shocking results of this year’s Leadership Race are a testament to this fact, as the infamously ‘lazy’ Activities & Engagement Officer Aria Shi wins her second term despite having nothing to show for it and even being suspended from campaigning for breaking the Union’s own election rules.

Inasmuch as we can blame these individuals for acting on their narrow self-interest, it is also unclear whether the ‘real adults’ on the Union’s senior management team have given us sufficient reason to lay our trust in them. Participation in any kind of politics requires a great deal of trust and understanding of the system, and that calls for transparency in our decision-making processes. But it is certainly difficult to trust something that you cannot even attribute a face or name to.

Any ‘real adults’ reading this might want to think about whether they are building a Union of students or a Union of faceless corporate executives and accountants.

Waterpolo: SU Funding Barely Keeps Us Afloat

Robert Delaney

The first rule of water polo is to keep your head above the water. Yet, the UCL Water Polo Club is struggling to stay afloat due to the lack of fiscal assistance they receive from the Students’ Union (SU). The club’s inability to pay for regular pool sessions and basic equipment has seen them turn to external sponsorship, with the Union’s insufficient funding forcing the society to not partake in the British Universities and Colleges Sports League this year.

In an interview with The Cheese Grater, Ruari Woodhead, the team’s social secretary, explained the constant uphill battle his, and other smaller sports societies, face without sufficient funding. Ruari explained that UCL Water Polo is a mixed team, with those identifying as women accounting for ‘around a quarter of the regular squad’.

The Club has a ‘very inclusive atmosphere’, and is known for its non-participation in many of the exclusionary customs practised by more mainstream sports societies like Men’s Hockey. Surely the club ethos of UCL Water Polo is something that the SU would want to promote and facilitate? With the SU securing a multi-million pound investment from UCL in 2023, one would think that money should be pouring into societies like Water Polo. After all, the SU has promised to give ‘every student access to a sporting offer that meets their needs’ following their recent investment.

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Despite its drastically increased fiscal ability, the SU could only give Water Polo ‘a £250 increase on [their] already tight budget for meeting the 30 member threshold’. One hour-long pool session for water polo costs £110, so ‘£250 is literally two weeks of training’ stated Ruari. Not only is this a minimal amount of money for societies that need to rent expensive spaces (like pools), it also didn’t reach the Water Polo club until ‘months after’ they’d reached 30+ members.

Ruari, expanding on his initial point regarding diversity, said that ‘to facilitate the greater accessibility of Water Polo, a sport often only played by private schoolers, the SU needs to invest more to allow us to become fiscally secure and have the ability to increase participation’. With very few mixed-gender teams across UCL, Water Polo’s position as an inclusive society is unique. the club is struggling to stay buoyant.

Ruari also told The Cheese Grater of the Club’s sponsorship ordeal. Due to their stringent fiscal situation, the club had to turn to Ruari’s dad, the owner of a beer delivery company, for help. Ruari’s dad agreed to sponsor the club, allowing them ‘to get enough water polo caps for the whole team’. With this most basic item reliant on sponsorship for delivery, it is clear that the SU is not sticking to its flagship promises of facilitating all sports clubs in UCL. The SU’s financial delays meant that it took from November until early January for the sponsorship money to reach the bank account of the Water Polo Club. During the 22/23 academic year, the bureaucracy of the Union prevented the Club from partaking in a game against St Barts Medical School (the RUMS of QMUL) due to a lack of caps, pointing to not only the SU’s lack of funding, but also its inefficient accountancy process. Finley Littlefair, the club’s captain, told The Cheese Grater that ‘the problem still remains a whole year later’, with each of their recent fixtures only taking place due to their opposition not claiming ‘a walkover’ (an enforced forfeit) against them for a lack of caps.

We mustn’t forget that UCL Water Polo has won Varsity three times in recent history and are a valuable asset to TeamUCL nearly every year. However, due to their issues maintaining sufficient levels of participation, resultant of the society’s lack of funding, Water Polo was not selected to take part in the UCL-KCL annual sports fixture for this academic year. On the topic of other London universities, Imperial College London, which has its own pool, sees its Water Polo team train ‘4 times a week, allowing them to compete at a much higher level, with greater par-

ticipation’. Ruari explained further that the lack of subsidised travel meant that both seasoned veterans and prospective team members ‘found it difficult to afford train fares to games outside of London’.

‘If we had a bit more money, and could train even twice a week, we could become a great society here at UCL’. The inability of the Union to provide the appropriate funding to smaller sports societies, whilst Rugby, Football and Hockey maintain their fiscal monopoly, is counterproductive to their aim of ‘Transforming Student Life at UCL’. The case of UCL Water Polo stands to show that the SU’s policy of diversity in sports and increasing participation is failing, and that more needs to be done to facilitate a greater range of people to take part in non-traditional sports, or sports which are usually consigned to the swimming pools of the country’s largest public schools. Ultimately, more needs to be done to ensure that societies, like Water Polo, don’t merely stay afloat, but can thrive in our student community.

The State of the NUS is a bit like Blackpool

Why the Students’ Union needs to leave the National Union of Students

Nick Miao

One question I found asking myself and my fellow delegates after our three-day trip to this year’s National Union of Students (NUS) National Conference in Blackpool was, ‘What the hell were we doing there?’

The NUS, the national body representing the collective interests of students in higher and further education, is supposedly the bastion of student activism in the UK. They lobby the Government on issues that matter to students and support students’ unions across the country in their collective organising efforts. However, I certainly didn’t feel that I was a part of such an organisation when I walked into a sparsely filled conference hall in Blackpool Winter Gardens earlier this April. There was no energy in the room. The speeches were read off the script. People were leaving halfway through. More time was spent lecturing delegates on dull democrat-

ic procedures and using hand signals. At one point they started trying to get us to do ice-breaker activities akin to Michael Spence’s ‘disagreeing well’ obsession. It all felt like a primary school assembly rather than the beating heart of Britain’s national student movement.

This isn’t normal. NUS National Conference used to be a space for student delegates from up and down the country to gather and organise collectively, whether by electing the next leaders of the student movement, discussing and deliberating on policies, or voting on them on behalf of the students we represent. But NUS Officers, in their infinite wisdom, decided to move two out of three of these functions online: the election now takes place before the Conference, and voting on policy happens after. This leaves the Conference itself looking like a really big focus group, where students complain about the state of the NUS, but nothing actually gets done.

Shortly before the Conference, I spoke to Alex Stanley, the Vice President-elect of Higher Education at NUS England, to better understand exactly what has gone wrong with the NUS. He told me that ‘The biggest issue facing the NUS is a crisis of engagement [...] We need a Union that’s mobilised, that’s campaigning, and that wins. And we currently don’t have that.’

It’s incredibly ironic that this year’s National Conference is held in Blackpool because, in many ways, the state of the NUS is a bit like Britain’s least favourite seaside town. Like Blackpool, the NUS has seen better days. At its peak in the 1990s, the NUS had a real influence on national politics. It had great relations with the Government and institutional actors who would consult the NUS on student policies while supporting students’ unions up and down the country with the vast range of services and resources it offered.

Today, the NUS is a ghost of its former self, having lost those key relationships, half of its workforce, and even its headquarters following years of financial mismanagement. Alex tells me that, ‘the NUS hasn’t done enough to get itself on national media and into those conversations in higher education; when it has, it’s been for the wrong reasons.’ Indeed, in recent memory, it seems like the only time students ever hear about the NUS in the news has been because it had embroiled itself in a fresh scandal. Headlines such as ‘NUS president ousted over antisemitism allegations’ or ‘NUS faces bankruptcy

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over £3m deficit’ hardly instil confidence.

For all intents and purposes, the NUS is a sinking ship whose members are desperate to get out of it. In the past five years alone, the NUS has seen seven disaffiliations, meaning it was losing an average of 1.4 member students’ unions per year, with good reason too. Currently, the affiliation fee for the NUS stands at 2.5% of a students’ union’s annual block grant. For example, here at UCL, our SU sends the NUS £30,000 a year for membership fees alone. However, with the increased funding from the Student Life Strategy, the Union would be expected to double its annual contribution to some £60,000 by 2028.

Nonetheless, I voted to remain in the NUS at UCL SU’s affiliation referendum last year, alongside the 59.4% of students who voted in the same way. I wanted to believe in the student movement, and the idea that a national collective body like the NUS, for all its faults, remained ‘the best vehicle for students to make change’, as Alex puts it. I am

not sure if I could say the same today.

Alex insists that there is still hope in the NUS, pointing to the structural reforms passed at National Conference as a ‘real opportunity to get us back on track.’ These reforms would see the decentralisation of the NUS via the creation of NUS England, which NUS Officers argued would open up more space for regional representation at a local level. For Alex, ‘The biggest piece of work for the NUS is to get itself sorted out internally.’

Unfortunately, this year’s Conference did anything but. While the delegates eventually voted through the reforms with 57% in favour, the reforms faced fierce criticism on the Conference floor when NUS Officers told delegates that they were not allowed to suggest amendments to the fine print, as they had already been approved internally before the Conference. There was also significant doubt cast over the legitimacy of the ‘member consultation’ process which, according to UCL SU sources,

amounted to an email invite to students’ unions to fill in a ‘rigid web form’.

Across the hall, repeated attempts by NUS Officers to water down a policy expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people saw heated discussion descend into chaos, with police being called into the Conference floor as backup. As one delegate passionately put it, ‘we are not being listened to […] It should not be controversial or risky to stand up for Palestinians and stand up for human rights and speak out against genocide.’ This policy was also voted through, although many delegates told me they had done so reluctantly as it was ‘better than nothing.’ I left Blackpool more sceptical than ever of the NUS’s ability to represent the force and opinions of Britain’s diverse student movement. It worries me that NUS Officers refused to take seriously the delegates’ widespread concerns over the devil in the details, forcing through policies that no one seemed to be happy about. Alex says that the NUS needed to get itself sorted out internally, but what does it

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Image by Nick Miao. Shot on Nintendo DS.

say about the National Union when this is done by bulldozing through dissent?

It’s also worth remembering that the majority of delegates simply did not vote. As voting took place online, less than half of those who attended the Conference managed to cast their ballot in the end. The reforms, for example, were passed by a mere 205 votes, which still accounted for 57% of those who voted. For reference, the NUS claims to represent 4.5 million students across the UK through its 426 member SUs. As one UCL delegate put it, ‘I’m sorry, but the NUS is a joke.’

Perhaps I was being too harsh on Blackpool. Looking back, I must admit that the struggling seaside town does have its moments of sheer brilliance, especially its Wetherspoon(s). I cannot say the

same for the National Union. Britain’s student movement is alive and well, but it is not found in the NUS, a relic of a time when national student institutions held real influence in society. Its demise is a lesson to those who come next, but that is the extent of its value today. It’s time to leave the National Union of Students.

Editor’s Note: It should be made known to the reader that the NUS was created by a King’s College London Alumni, Sir Ivison Macadam, so all faults of the NUS can be squarely pinned on our beloved neighours down at the Strand Polytechnic. Our Godless College is wholly innocent and absolved of any wrongdoing in all isntances, both relating to the NUS and otherwise.

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National Conference at Blackpool in 1979, back when Blackpool was actually a nice place and when the NUS actually mattered.

Soc Bitch

The Bitch-er Takes It All!

My darling gossip gobblers, did you miss me? I suppose you haven’t seen me in print since my victory over the terrible Tories. They certainly won the most controversial moment of the year with their pathetic ‘port and policy’ debate topics! I do so hate repeating myself so I’ll push those not in the loop towards The Cheese Grater Instagram.

The collaboration between the UCL and King’s Tories in the January scandal certainly gave us a new reason to hate the Strand Polytechnic but another reason to hate them came about during Varsity this year. According to the Murdoch owned miscreants (The Tab), during the American football match a Kings player called a UCL player a racial slur. Matters were made worse when the KCL team refused to remove the slur hurler from the field forcing UCL to abandon the game. Unquestionably awful sportsmanship on display!

Bad sportsmanship and Nationalism seemed to be a common theme in the Sabbs elections this year. Absent Aria was suspended from campaigning for part of vote week due to “insufficient translations” being provided for her posters. Her phrase used on WeChat “Chinese vote Chinese” also ruffled feathers, but seemingly worked as she was unfortunately re-elected only to stand down a few weeks later. Oh Aria, you will not be missed. New SU president Gok Su also hopped on the nationalism bandwagon by mobilising the Turkish society in her campaign. In fact her announcement as president was quite difficult to see in the video as the shot was obscured by a fuck off Turkish flag. Questions I think must be asked; if a home student campaigned using the fact that they were British to get people to vote for them, would that be acceptable? Would the St George’s cross have been as welcomed as the Turkish flag seemingly was? Being proud of your nationality is one thing but campaigning for a paid position based on it is never a particularly good look.

Things in the music society elections this year were also far from harmonious! Despite pre-election candidate selections

having taken place the week before nominations opened, rumours began circling of a non-sanctioned candidate. Rumours which were kept from the sanctioned candidate by other members of the society. The non-sanctioned candidate tried to keep his running as quiet for as long as possible supposedly in order to catch her off guard at the planned hustings event; the sanctioned candidate’s unawareness of this situation was clear for all to see in her jokey manifesto. Thankfully the music society can recognise when someone is striking a discordant note with the rest of the orchestra and voted in the initial maestro!

Finally, new kids in the column, the Filipino Society. Rumours from Bitchy sources have reached me that this soc is in the financial trenches. 3 grand in debt and no way out in sight as members are reportedly attending events without buying tickets for them. Apparently, things are getting so bad they are extending invitations to Filipino societies as far away as Liverpool to try and get more ticket sales. Here’s hoping they can find the cash, or at least convince their members to part with it!

A Guide for Men:

So, the woman you were interested in told you she’s a lesbian, here’s what to do! Marian


So, it happened again. You started talking to someone you really liked and she seemed to really like you, so you foolishly allowed yourself to develop feelings for her. Or maybe you just chatted her up at a bar before going deadeyed and lunging. Either way, just when you thought your fairytale romance was coming true the icy bucket of rainbow rejection was poured cruelly down your back. It might feel like you’ll never escape the cold crushing grip of loneliness, but fear not! This handy guide will help you react in a way that allows you to retain your dignity; the last thing you have left.

Option 1

Inform her that you, in fact, are also gay

Now, this might seem counterproductive, or even slightly embarrassing, but this helps to downplay any feelings

you might have had for her. By telling her that you too are a member of the colourful coalition; all her feelings of discomfort and disgust will miraculously vanish! (we recommend presenting yourself as bisexual to avoid looking like the deceitful serpent that you are!) She will probably feel much more comfortable around you and who knows, maybe she’ll even change her mind!

Option 2

Insist you will help set her up with someone

This option is ideal for disguising your feelings for her, because no one would ever suspect that someone who is overly involved in someone else’s dating life might have (or once had) a vested interest. It’s also a truly benevolent move, after all, why would a woman know how to talk to other women? Clearly she needs your help in this facet of life if she isn’t already off the dating market. If you aren’t sure whether or not she’s dating someone, just assume she needs your help - lesbians love being forcefully set up like your dolls when your parents weren’t looking!

Option 3

Start treating her like a man

This route is the least painful for you, as what was once an option becomes a person! There is nothing a lesbian loves more than being considered a man! They’re basically the same thing anyway, right? This method allows for a complete emotional shift, because of course you could never feel this way about a man. A beautiful, smart, funny man. A man whose smile lights up the room, whose laughter sounds like melodious song. Ewwww haha, are we right? This way, you’ll make a new friend for (hopefully) life!

Option 4

Cut that toxic woman out of your life!

Having lost her previously obvious spark, you may find yourself no longer enjoying the time you spend with her, and may no longer find her funny, smart, or interesting. For the sake of your own mental health it is imperative that you separate from this emotional vampire, and establish a support network for yourself. To do so, make sure you tell your entire social circle how toxic she is, and begin distancing yourself from her gradually; leave her on read for a few days and avoid her in public until she gets the message.

Option 5

Call her a slur.

And there you have it!

The Cheese Grater Summer Issue 2024 24 Humour & Satire

Hopefully with these top tips you will be fully prepared for the next time you ignore a woman’s body language and misread her smiling at you as a deep yearning desire for your body and/or soul.

Catch us next time for tips on handling being asked by your female friends to stop using the word bitch!

Satire Team at Risk of Redundancy

The Satire Team at The Cheese Grater Magazine is on the brink of collapse following the latest scandal by the UCL Conservative Society.

This comes as the UCL Conservatives cancelled yet another ‘Port and Policy’ event in which organisers had hoped to debate the most insane, batshit crazy policy proposals whilst drinking fortified wine, on UCL premises, under the banner of Students’ Union UCL.

There are mixed reactions within The Cheese Grater Magazine. Whilst the Investigations Team thinks they have hit the jackpot, the Tories’ latest move has left the Satire Team fearing for their jobs.

One satire writer declared this to be the ‘death of satire at UCL’: ‘It used to be the case that we would make up funny stories about what kind of insane far-right shit they would debate at Tory Soc. But now they actually just debate insane farright shit. At this point, we’re just reporting facts. What is the point of journalism if I can’t make shit up anymore?’

In a desperate plea, satire editor Izzie Moull issued a statement demanding the UCL Conservatives to ‘stop being such fucking fascists’. She added that ‘There is nothing left to satirise if you lot are actually this right wing in real life’. It is understood that she has since been

to write for the Investigations Team. Cheese Grater Treasurer Altay Shaw has said if this continues for much longer, the magazine will have no choice but to merge its Satire Team into its Investigations Team: ‘We are closely monitoring the situation to assess the long-term sustainability of satire at The Cheese Grater Magazine.’

Anti-Heroes, Loyalty and Redemption:

Cinematic Parallels

Between Alvin & the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked and The Godfather I-III

Malvika Murkumbi

A heart-wrenching tale of brotherhood, power, loyalty and redemption, this timeless piece of work has it all. Mike Mitchell’s classic Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011) weaves a tale many screenwriters of his time were simply too afraid to tell when they put pen to paper.

While some have disregarded the film’s true cinematic mastery by calling it “just a kid’s movie” and “the one where the squeaky fuckers destroy Destiny Child’s Survivor”, it is my sincere belief that these ignorant and chipmunkphobic reviewers simply don’t see what I see:

Mitchell’s magnum opus is an upgrade of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy–the thematic similarities are simply too significant to ignore.

The Undeniable Glory of Found Family

Just as the Corleone family adopt Tom Hagen as one of their own, Dave takes in the chipmunks as his own children. Even when he’s seething with rage at Alvin’s insolence, he refuses to abandon him, a moving display of the power of found family.


A sense of unwavering loyalty is salient in both the Corleone and the Chipmunk-Chipette family. One of Vito Corleone’s key moral tenets was staying loyal to family no matter what. Chipwrecked strikingly mirrors this family

One of Vito Corleone’s key moral tenets was staying loyal to family no matter what. Chipwrecked strikingly mirrors this family dynamic – no matter what Alvin does. Simon, Theodore, Brittany, Jeanette, Eleanor, and, most importantly Dave, never leave his side – even when he, in true daredevil fashion, takes over the adults-only Serenity Deck.

Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

Like patriarch Vito Corleone, Alvin is the de facto leader of the Chipmunks and Chipettes. He is well-aware that his affinity for lawlessness will not strip him of his status as head of the group. His absolute power enables his reprehensible actions, which he justifies as being in the best interest of the Chipmunks. While Coppola made an admirable effort to craft interesting and nuanced anti-heroes through Vito and Michael Corleone, their complexity arguably pales in comparison to Alvin’s character.


Tom Hagen and Michael Corleone certainly redeem themselves in some ways, but Chipwrecked manages to fit two comprehensive redemption arcs in a humble 92 minutes. Both Zoe and Ian redeem themselves in ways Hagen and Corleone simply did not. Coppola made a valiant effort, but I think we can all agree that Mitchell achieved what he could not.

In this loving musical tribute to the film giants before him, Mitchell evidently did what Coppola couldn’t, with more nuance and in half the time.

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The Cheese Grater Summer Issue 2024 26 Humour & Satire

Cars (2006) is a cautionary tale of automotive revolt

TW: Discouse around the themes of eugenics, identity crisis and post-capitalism in the Cars (2006) Extended Universe.

When I think about the evolution of humanity in the 21st century, it can chronologically be categorised into two parts: before Cars (2006) and after Cars (2006).


If you really think about it, the release of the first film in the Cars franchise on that fateful day in 2006 marked a cosmic shift in the universe. Something shifted. Something snapped. Since the automotive revolution hinted at in the film, things have never been the same. Ever since then, it is as if humanity’s third

eye has been opened. The sheer genius of the film Cars (2006) is something that no mere mortal can comprehend. It is a surprise to me that this piece of prophetic cinema is so easily accessible to the general public. Despite this, there is an untapped context that only a few subspecies can understand. That is why, in my early years of birthhood I, without intention, meticulously studied this masterpiece by watching it approximately 100 times. In this way, my brain mass became composed of around 75% Cars (2006) lines, 15% of “what am I

cooking for dinner tomorrow”, and 10% of whatever else compels me to re-watch Cars (2006) on a regular basis.

Firstly, the film operates in a universe whereby automotive vehicles rule the world. In this world, there is no rhyme or reason as to why things are the way they are. They just are. Despite this, the cars do not question their place in the universe, instead simply choosing to exist in a quasi-capitalist society. We do not understand how this system works, as we do not see any cash in the film, or

27 Summer Issue 2024 The Cheese Grater Humour & Satire

credit cards. In fact, the impossibility of cars holding a credit card makes the mere suggestion laughable. However, cars still have jobs. A large part of the film deals with businesses closing in Radiator Springs due to the introduction of the Interstate road – how does that even happen without some sort of financial system? There must be a financial incentive and I think this is proof that there were humans before. Humans have built a capitalistic system, and cars are still dealing with the fallout. Their traces have been left behind… as cars still live in a hierarchical universe if you take into account this contextual history. This is what tends to happen in an oppressive post-revolutionary society, they tend to mirror the hierarchical political landscape of the previous overlords.

In the Cars (2006) universe, the concept of social mobility is not explained. It is only hinted at with lines like “float like a Cadillac, sting like a Beamer” which suggests that some cars may have the ability to float, and some cars may have the ability to sting, expanding the skill set of some cars beyond the arbitrary functionality of driving that they seem to have. This thereby suggests that some cars may be seen as better than others due to their supernatural extensive skills. Lightning McQueen – our illustrious

protagonist – also makes a derogatory comment towards a minivan in one of the first scenes: “A MINIVAN??” he shouts towards Mac as he is inside him – inside his trailer that is – describing a car that is much slower than him and making fun of him for that; even though the joke only makes sense in the human world. In a later scene, he starts to suggest that Porsches are somehow attractive, saying “Holy Porsche”. Clearly, We are just not yet clever enough as a society to interpret this dialogue. However, this is further proof that this is evolutionary, as cars linguistically deal with a world designed by humans – now ruled by automotive vehicles. There is an identity crisis here though, as cars –unlike humans – are built differently to each other in terms of skill set.

This brings me to eugenics. Cars (2006) and UCL have a lot in common. In Cars (2006), cars are manufactured by the Manufacturer – we do not know who this is and we never see him in the Cars films. Perhaps he is the destined One, the One that will emancipate cars in the real world. However, in the film, different types of cars such as race-cars are more or less bound to fit in a job title linked to their biology. Something is just not right here. If we were to “deep it” as the kids say these days, are planes mere-

ly obliged to fly around, and are restricted to work in the air? What if they want to become accountants in a seemingly moneyless world? It’s just not right. Are they all prisoners in this universe? Who is this mysterious Manufacturer? Why does he want this? Is he the previous emancipator of the cars? Is he now the oppressor? After the revolution, has the Manufacturer become a tyrant, operating on a Eugenics-based, mechanically determinate, system? Perhaps, he was educated at UCL.

What is the place of humanity in Cars (2006)? The cars have windows and doors, but it is not clear what their intention is. This is proof that cars are revolutionary beings, previously made for humans, and the Cars (2006) film is a warning to humanity that we will one day be taken over by the automotive vehicles we so stupidly undermine. The automotive revolt may be upon us one day. This interpretation of the film is just the start, as people will soon start to wake up and realise the truth. Only time will tell, but when the automotive revolution occurs, we can’t merely say there were no signs; Cars warned us in the year 2006 that this could occur. We were just too blind to see.

The Cheese Grater Summer Issue 2024 28 Humour & Satire

President - Zhenya Robinson

Editors-in-Chief - Robert Delaney and Mads Brown

Investigations Editor - Rebekah Wright

Humour Editor - Izzie Moull

Online Editor - Hia Sadho

Students’ Union UCL, 25 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AY. Views expressed herein are not necessarily those of UCL Students’ Union or the editors. Published 7/6/2024

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