Imperial head: no more ‘dull lectures in crowded auditoriums’

Alice Gast says the pandemic has shown the need for crucial changes in universities

June 2, 2021
Alice Gast - Top 10 universities run by women
Alice Gast, president of Imperial College London

University students will no longer accept “dull lectures in crowded auditoriums”, according to the president of Imperial College London.

Giving the institution’s annual address on 2 June, Alice Gast was due to say that the rapid switch online since the start of the pandemic and the move to “multi-mode education” had given universities a taste of their “ability to enrich the educational experience for our students”.

“The best and brightest students will not accept an education fashioned around dull lectures in a crowded auditorium,” she was set to say.

The problem was that universities can easily become “mired in pedagogical treacle” and become unable to agree on course changes, instead setting up committees and launching reviews that maintain the status quo, the text of her speech said. “One thing that the pandemic taught us is that when we have to, we can change,” Professor Gast was due to say, arguing that universities must “seize the opportunity to build upon what we have done by integrating the innovations we have made with the best of our traditional modes of education”.

This also meant shifting the focus from the education of 18- to 22-year-olds to recognising that “learning is a lifetime activity”.

She was set to explain that universities would shift away from the traditional residential model as “technology can bring learning to where you are; the need to spend the time in a residential university may become less compelling than in the past”. However, she was due to add that the model wasn’t completely outdated, and that “where and how” scholars share their ideas with students mattered.

The new ways of working will allow staff and students “to make the most of our precious time together while using technology to enable us to be efficient and effective. We will use spaces differently,” she was due to say.

Professor Gast’s speech adds that this would involve adopting not only the flipped classroom, where students consume information online and discuss it in person, but the “flipped workplace”. This would mean looking as “which things do we do best together, in person, and how can we use our spaces to help us do those? Which things we can do remotely, saving commuting time, energy, and stress? And which things should no longer be done.”

Professor Gast was also due to use the speech to announce a £10 million fund for scholarships and fellowships over the next five years. Imperial has earmarked £5 million of this fund for underrepresented students, including black students and those whose socio-economic backgrounds are barriers to university attendance.

The other £5 million will provide matching funds to support scholarships and fellowships for international students. The university said it was also launching a fundraising campaign to double the institution’s investment to £20 million through support from alumni and other philanthropists.

Professor Gast explained that “like other universities, we are missing contributions from large segments of the population”.

“We must diversify our community, at all levels, from students to council members. We must be more ethnically diverse, gender-balanced, and internationally diverse. Increasing diversity will strengthen and enrich our community. It will make us more competitive,” she said.

Professor Gast’s address was her first since she was forced to apologise after a disciplinary hearing found her guilty of bullying.

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Reader's comments (4)

Another idealistic article but with some balance. However, one of the main benefits of university is the time spent living independently. The chance to develop free of family or cultural pressure is more important than the subject studied since it allows students to enter the country of the educated that has no boundaries. Not partaking in the "traditional" residential model means that a large amount of the purpose of a university is lost.
The lecturing system was pioneered in Scotland in the 18th century as a means of offering cheap education to the masses. Perhaps it needs to be rethought in light of modern technology and student requirements.
It's always good to review what we do, but we should be careful of falling into the trap of thinking that the fact that something has been done a particular way for a long time means it is automatically past its sell-by date.
I bet the Imperial college lecturers are saying "dull"? Thanks a lot for your professional support!


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