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What is the ‘UCL experience’? 

I think we can all agree that the UCL experience is more than just the time spent in the lecture theatre, it’s the time spent with your friends, your first experience of Tottenham Court Road at lunchtime and even the mad dash across campus when you’ve just finished a lecture in the IOE and your next one is in the Cruciform in 5 minutes.

These activities will be greatly changed next year and the Students’ Union has really been considering how to best welcome students and the ways to ensure that you still have the ‘UCL experience’ regardless of where you are based.

When you think back to your days in secondary school, do you remember the lessons you had? Or do you remember the friends you sat with at lunch, the people you went to for support when things didn’t exactly go to plan or the adventures you had after school finished?

We believe that the ‘UCL experience’ is as much shaped outside of the lecture theatre as it is inside of one. Those are the memories that stay with you, and those are the types of experiences and social networks that we need to protect. The Student’s Union firmly believes that the student communities and groups that you find and create here are vital to the ‘UCL experience’ and a key support network for all our students.

Peer-to-peer relationships are important and normally they happen organically, when you happen to sit next to the same person a few times in the first week so you smile and introduce yourself and just like that you have your first UCL friend. But with all core teaching online and a mostly digital Welcome Period, those spontaneous meetings won’t happen like they used to- meaning that we will now have to actively work to make them happen digitally.

More than ever, the Students’ Union needs to work in collaboration with UCL to ensure that no student feels isolated, that every student feels like they belong at UCL, and that they know the vast array of opportunities available to them simply by being a UCL student.

Many different services at UCL rely on students walking into their spaces as a means of introduction- every new undergrad has the mandatory library tour built into their induction, which often the library’s way of introducing its services and the study spaces available to students. The Students’ Union does the same thing, we rely on people wanting to buy cheap coffee (or cheap beer depending on the time), and when they’re waiting in the queue to pay we show them who we are and what we do on the digital display screens and posters on the walls.

But again, with most of campus activity happening online, we are thinking creatively on how to introduce what we are in a way that makes sense remotely.

In essence, we have to take a step back and introduce the concept of Students’ Unions and their impact on the university experience to students who won’t be on campus in September. Students that won’t be on guided tours of the campus where we physically bring them into our spaces or who won’t be buying tickets for one of our numerous Welcome Week events.

We are also looking at all of the channels through which we communicate to students, and I think we all need to avoid an over-reliance on a students’ inbox, we need to make sure key messages and information is not missed or dragged into a ‘read later’ folder and never opened.

With that in mind, the Students’ Union is working with UCL on a Central Induction Programme, where we will be hosting an interactive live session for all new students.

We want to bring them all together so that they can collectively be introduced to the wider breadth of Central UCL Services available to them from the libraries and ISD to Security and Student Support and Wellbeing. This will enable students to recognise that the entirety of UCL is behind them, that they belong to more than just their department and that there are areas of this university who can help them regardless of the problems they might face. We want to give students the best start to their university experience in these uncertain times.

Whilst I’m on the topic of large scale events for all students, I will mention about our Welcome Fair.

Every year on the weekend just before the beginning of teaching, the Students’ Union takes over campus and showcases all the incredible work of our 300+ clubs and societies. However given the situation we’ve found ourselves’ in, we’ve decided to host a Digital Welcome Fair this year on the afternoon of Wednesday 30th September and the morning of Saturday 3rd October- recreating the experience of finding the societies you knew you wanted to join and bumping into those you didn’t expect. From Taekwondo and Harry Potter to Knitting and Pole Fitness- there will be Netflix style ‘stalls’ for each of our 320 different clubs and societies, all with individual live chat functions so that students can still speak to committee members about what it’s like to be part of that society and what kinds of activities to expect as a member.

I will just highlight here that the easiest way for students to meet others studying different things is through our clubs and societies, the beauty of UCL is that we have so many students studying so many different things, that just being a member of a society means that you will have friends in every faculty, from almost every walk of life and who most importantly know what it’s like to be a UCL student in 2020. 

I know this September will be very different, but just know that the Students’ Union is doing it’s best to ensure you still get the ‘UCL experience‘ regardless of where you are.

We have a more in depth article about what the Union is doing in September here if you want to know more.