Inspiring and educating

Five years of innovation, collaboration, and dedication in how we teach and learn

Written by Murray MacKay

Following several years of positive levels of student satisfaction, and recent confirmation by regulators that Imperial has continued to offer students the gold standard of teaching and support since 2017, we celebrate our community's efforts and challenge ourselves to build upon these strong foundations.
Professor Peter Haynes (Vice Provost, Education and Student Experience) and Camille Boutrolle (President, Imperial College Union)


An unrivalled experience in the Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, and Business

Imperial is home to the next generation of pioneers – a community empowered to explore the most effective and enjoyable ways to teach and learn, with £31.6m having been invested in transforming the education and student experience via Imperial's Learning and Teaching Strategy since 2017.

"The long-term ambition of Imperial is nothing short of developing and delivering the ‘classroom of the future’ - an environment in which students and staff are inspired to collaborate as partners, embrace technology, and recognise their collective potential, together", said Professor Ian Walmsley, Provost of Imperial, in response to the university's recent Gold Award from the Office for Students.

Feel at home in a global city

Imperial continues to be a hub for likeminded individuals and organisations, with students enrolling from across the world to share in one of the most diverse and impactful university experiences on offer.

I was really interested in experiencing the culture at Imperial, to get to study in such a renowned an incredible opportunity. I’m also excited to explore London as a city – it has so much history!
Akira Ito, Undergraduate Student, Home Country – Japan

Facilities like no other

As a research-intensive university, Imperial has incredible specialist facilities available to the student community. The university's proactive approach to partnership with industry can also result in students gaining access to external facilities that allow the application of knowledge and skills to solve open-ended real-world problems.

Civil engineering students can take part in the Constructionarium, a bespoke construction site based in Norfolk. By forming 'companies', students simulate managing and building scaled down versions of real engineering projects (e.g. 1:10 Gherkin skyscraper).

“It’s been like nothing we’ve encountered before. There are so many more things to think about when it’s real, particularly executing the project and keeping everyone safe on site. For example, have to create massive weldings, but we have to seriously consider the safety implications and act accordingly.
Jean Marc Feghali, undergraduate student

The course aids the transition from theory to practice, converting students of engineering to student engineers. The project has been adopted by over 20 UK universities, owing to its discovery-based learning approach. The Construction Industry Training Board supports the Constructionarium, proving the skills acquired onsite are highly valued by employers.

The Chemical Engineering Discovery Space similarly offers students an unparalleled hands-on educational experience, inclusive of a four-storey high state-of-the-art Carbon Capture Pilot Plant representing a scaled-down chemical engineering plant.

The facility provides students with real-world plant operation experience, giving them the chance to control the industrial-standard plant, learning key skills such as how to startup, shut down, and operate it safely and efficiently.

Graduation is only the beginning

The world’s leading employers tell Imperial they need talented graduates with experience of applying their knowledge to real-world scenarios, ideally as part of a team. The attractiveness of the knowledge and skills developed as part of an Imperial education is demonstrated by Imperial retaining its place as the UK’s number one university for graduate employability in The Guardian University Guide (2018 to 2023) and is also top for graduate prospects in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023.

During my internship I gained valuable insight into both the biotechnology industry as well as the intricacies of working for a start-up. I also improved my pitching ability in front of CEOs of biotech and health companies.
Diana Shroff, undergraduate student
Students walk across South Kensington Campus

Imperial's South Kensington campus sits at the heart of Albertopolis, a quarter of London renowned for science and culture.

Imperial's South Kensington campus sits at the heart of Albertopolis, a quarter of London renowned for science and culture.

Students in hi-vis vests and hard hats work together to stabilise and steel beam outdoors

Students must work as a team to succeed while using the Constructionarium.

Students must work as a team to succeed while using the Constructionarium.

Students stand by a control panel in a laboratory

The Chemical Engineering Discovery Space includes an operational Carbon Capture Plant.

The Chemical Engineering Discovery Space includes an operational Carbon Capture Plant.

Students are gathered in the Royal Albert Hall for their graduation ceremony

Graduation ceremonies are hosted throughout the year in the iconic Royal Albert Hall.

Graduation ceremonies are hosted throughout the year in the iconic Royal Albert Hall.


Bringing worlds to life

Imperial's approach to education is constantly evolving, with students being key stakeholders in how their degree programmes evolve.

In the past five years every undergraduate curriculum has been refreshed, with the style and format of teaching being updated in several ways, including the introduction of new digital technologies.

Entering new realities

Imperial embraces innovative digital technologies, and the way they intersect with teaching, to ensure students are prepared for whatever the future may bring and whichever career they wish to embark upon.

"Developing and perfecting interactive and immersive learning activities helps our community explore the most challenging concepts and scenarios within their chosen degree subject", said Daniel Mitelpunkt, Director of the Digital Media Lab.

Many of Imperial's world-leading degrees are also being specially redeveloped for a fast-growing global community of online students. Hundreds of thousands of individuals are taking part in new courses all across the world, using their knowledge to support populations to be healthier, happier, safer, and more prosperous.

It may seem like science fiction, but technological advances in extended reality mean our learners can engage in impossible, expensive, rare, or dangerous experiences, like playing on the Moon, travelling back in time, or conducting a life-saving biopsy - all without leaving their classroom.
Helen McKenna, Head of the Interdisciplinary EdTech Lab

And not all experiences are rooted in Imperial's physical campuses. Advances and investment in digital technologies mean that some experiences exist outside the confines of our own reality.

A student wears a virtual reality headset covering the upper half of their face. The display is illuminated.

The 'Mass Casualty for Remote Medicine' virtual reality experience uses the latest headset technology.

The 'Mass Casualty for Remote Medicine' virtual reality experience uses the latest headset technology.

The 'Mass Casualty for Remote Medicine' virtual reality experience gives medical students access to a simulated mass casualty scenario, in this case the aftermath of an explosion which takes place at a nightclub. The student in this scenario takes on the role of a first-line responder who is responsible for triaging people who have different levels of injury.

As a medical student you are never put in a position where you are in a team resuscitating a patient who has had a cardiac arrest. But after you graduate you have to do it, so there is a big gap between preparedness and practice in medicine that we have to grapple with.
Professor Amir Sam, Head of the School of Medicine

Labs on tour

During the COVID-19 pandemic it was a priority to develop an alternative to labs that would still give students the hands-on experience they needed and satisfy the requirements of accrediting organisations.

The Lab-in-a-Box initiative involved multiple Imperial departments developing experiments for use at home. This even led to the Chemistry department's Lab-In-a-Box Team winning the 2022 Royal Society of Chemistry Team Prize for Excellence in Higher Education. The Science Museum has also requested Labs-in-a-Box for its archive.

A student uses a screwdriver to assemble an experimental machine at home.

Portable experiments allow students to test their skills and knowledge from home.

Portable experiments allow students to test their skills and knowledge from home.

In recent years Imperial academics have also developed new field trips for students, using video gaming technologies and new approaches to in-person trips to improve the experience for all participants.

Highland fling

For some disciplines, research is not just lab-based but also about getting your boots muddy out in the field. Dr Matthew Genge, Senior Lecturer in Earth and Planetary Science, immediately recognised during the pandemic that many of these expeditionary opportunities would be unavailable to his students. He set to work collecting 140 Gb of 3D data in the field to aid him in creating a series of virtual worlds. 

One of the most popular experiences represented the geological features of the Highlands of Scotland.

Interstellar mission

As a Mars expert, Dr Genge even tried his hand at recreating the Red Planet, likely decades before real human visitation becomes commonplace.

Emilia Dobb, a student on the course, expressed how the field trips have let students learn geology in an accessible way: “Our lecturers have put so much effort into making the trip fun and immersive. They have developed an app for us to explore 3D outcrops, and accommodated them with high-resolution photographs, 3D images of rock samples and even incorporated a virtual microscope which we can use to analyse the rocks through thin sections.” 

Island life

Field trips, whether physical or virtual, aim to provide students with a fun yet realistic experience. Carbon footprint and accessibility issues are also an increasingly important consideration of in-person expeditions, resulting in more carefully crafted trips.

Lundy Island, a tiny outcrop off the Devonshire coast in England, remains a firm favourite among life science students. During their time on the island they learn essential field skills, explore its natural history, behavioural ecology and the evolution of its resident house sparrows. 


Creating opportunities for personal and intellectual growth

Exploring new horizons

Studying a discipline at Imperial does not mean being limited to a single experience. Through the I-Explore programme, launched in 2020, all Imperial undergraduates take a module from outside of their subject area in either year 2 or year 3 of their programme.

The modules, covering the Humanities, Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths, Medicine, and Business are all designed to broaden students' perspectives, give new context to the degree subject they are studying, and allow participants to share their new expertise for the benefit of society.

I-Explore is about having new experiences and preparing you to meet the challenges of a changing world. Whatever you choose, this is your chance to see the world from a different perspective.
Layla Smith, 2nd year undergraduate student

Entrepreneurial spirit

Imperial has a particular focus on developing students’ entrepreneurial skills, as reflected in the 190 graduate start-ups developed from 2018-22.

One such startup, founded by Imperial graduates, has recently won £1 million in the Prince of Wales’ Earthshot Prize.

Notpla, founded by Pierre Paslier and Rodrigo Garcia while they were students at Imperial, developed a seaweed-based biodegradable alternative to plastic. They are the first UK team to win a prize in the competition.

Paslier and Garcia were advised by the Imperial Enterprise team, which supports academic staff in commercialisation of their research and their relationships with industry, also supports student entrepreneurs via the Imperial Enterprise Lab, the College’s dedicated entrepreneurship training centre for students and postdocs.

The Lab provides a co-working location and events space for members of the Imperial community looking to develop their ideas with access to expert advice. The team also provide one-to-one advice from over 150 expert coaches and mentors, to help students explore new ideas and bring them to life.

My advice to any students thinking about starting a business is just to go for it! Don’t be afraid of failure. As a student, you can find a lot of support from the university and definitely from the Enterprise Lab.
Mint Mahuttanatan, Founder of Cadget – a company specialising in light and breathable medical casting, undergraduate student
Medical Biosciences students practice skills in the Chemical Kitchen

Students shaping their experience

Student expectations are changing regarding how they get involved in teaching, and Imperial is rising to the opportunity.

Through the StudentShapers programme, launched in 2018, the community is supporting hundreds of students and teachers to co-create courses that offer interactive and unexpected perspectives on traditional scientific, entrepreneurial, and medical disciplines. One such example is the ‘Chemical Kitchen’, an undergraduate Chemistry module that uses a kitchen setting as a method of gaining practical lab skills and self-confidence.

Another module takes students’ impressive engineering skills and encourages them to develop solutions for underserved groups in society, such as an app helping diabetics with their dietary choices. This creative approach also means students are no longer judged solely by their individual performance in exams, but also by their ability to work as a team and demonstrate insight within their chosen field of study.

StudentShapers is an excellent platform for partnering with students. Their input ensures a world-class educational experience for all our students into the future, and recognises the great talent and expertise that our students can offer.
Dr Mike Streule, Director of StudentShapers


Focussing on the future of learning with Imperial

Scientific skills are a vital part of our shared future. Economically, socially, and culturally, a solid footing in science can prove hugely rewarding for young people in the United Kingdom and beyond, supporting a range of career and learning pathways. 
Professor Maggie Dallman, Associate Provost and Governor of Imperial College London Mathematics School

The Sciences have a 'leaky pipeline' problem. Significant numbers of school pupils lose their love of core scientific subjects by the time they make their choice of degree programme or future career and prepare to depart secondary education.

For several decades Imperial's Outreach team has been working hard to reverse this trend and inspire a love of science in the youngest age groups in the UK school system, particularly surrounding Imperial's White City campus. Now the team at the Imperial College London Mathematics School will join them on a similar journey.

The new sixth form institution opened in North London on 1 September 2023. The school will open up further outreach possibilities in its catchment area and will establish long-lasting mentorship and research schemes between pupils and the staff and student community at Imperial.

In addition, the University of Cumbria and Imperial are working together to launch a new graduate medical school in Carlisle. The new school, which aims to enrol its first 50 students in autumn 2025, will train new doctors for Cumbria and North West England to transform healthcare in local communities.  

And the learning opportunities do not stop after school and university, with Imperial in the early stages of considering its approach to lifelong learning opportunities that will continue to inspire learners with a wide variety of experience of engaging with science, engineering, medicine, and business.

Expanding learning pathways with Imperial

I want to demonstrate that it is possible for women to go into engineering if they want to. I want to be an example for little girls that gender shouldn't matter. You should be able to do whatever you want, regardless.
Nadia, Year 12 Maths School Student
I'm surprised how many doors studying maths opens. Both in terms of my interaction with the world around me and how I can change it. We're working on a rocket launch, something I did not think I could do before joining Imperial!
Egor, Undergraduate Aeronautical Engineering Student
Early years, secondary, and lifelong learning are a fantastic opportunity for learners to engage with academic staff and students at Imperial, and really deepen their understanding and appreciation of the Sciences.
Professor Emma McCoy, Governor of Imperial College London Mathematics School


What's next?

Digital experiences for all learners...

Imperial's extensive suite of Digital Media Lab recording studios means that learners and teachers can take advantage of rapidly advancing technology. In fact, for some learners some subjects will be possible to learn wholly or primarily from home, whether that's in the UK or abroad.

Indeed, for Imperial's core community of students the pace of technological change quickened during the pandemic, with some commentators predicting the end of the on-campus university experience altogether. Of course, this did not happen. Students now interact with digital exercises and data, while also having highly valuable practical experiences in the lab or seminar room.

Investment in campuses...

Imperial is a practically-minded, research-intensive, and primarily campus-based community. Students have been at the heart of campus improvements in the past five years, from room design choices, to AV functionality, to furniture selection.

In fact, research from the Imperial's own academics suggests our surroundings impact how we feel about the experiments we conduct in the lab, the knowledge we are absorbing in the classroom, and even how we socialise in informal parts of a campus. This has been a significant factor in lecture theatres and seminar spaces being upgraded to better reflect the Imperial way of teaching – open, inquisitive, and high quality – with further investment on the way.

Improving the fundamentals...

Consistently high levels of student satisfaction is positive news. Yet, it also emphasises the value of keeping a strong focus on everyday experiences, such as feedback students receive when assessed, plus the support they receive when they encounter personal or academic issues. Significant efforts are therefore being made in these areas.

Being a London-based student can also have its financial challenges. Accommodation, transport, and the cost of living all require the community to work even harder to ensure that students have a positive, life-changing experience during their time at Imperial.

Poor mental health similarly represents an increasing challenge for university students globally. To address this, Imperial has boosted mental health support, training, and early intervention over several years.

A societal revolution...

Commonly referred to as the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution', technologies such as quantum computing and mixed realities are widely expected to transform the way we play, learn, and work.

Foremost among these developments is artificial intelligence (AI), with Imperial having a long-standing commitment to translate its excellence in this research area into teaching innovations. Future students will have to engage with the real-world applications of the AI technologies they will encounter at university. Developing the responsible use of generative tools, in particular through increasing AI literacy among staff and students, will be critical to ensuring these technologies can be used responsibly and effectively.

Photography by Thomas Angus, and video by the Digital Media Lab.

If you have any queries about this article, please email Murray MacKay.