Imperial College London: for the benefit of society

When we wrote the College Strategy 2015-2020 we hoped that it would be an enduring guide. It has held up well, even in the face of unprecedented crisis and societal change.

The foreword in 2015 was prescient: 'It is 2015 and we can be confident that in ten years the world will be quite different from today. International relations, social structures and trade patterns will alter. There will be new approaches to dealing with epidemics, shortages of natural resources and environmental crises. New challenges will arise.'

Unprecedented challenge abounds in 2020 and beyond. Our mission, to achieve enduring excellence in research and education in science, engineering, medicine and business for the benefit of society, is more important than ever.

Our strong foundations, great people, excellent partners and enablers including courage still frame what we aim for. We have accomplished quite a bit since 2015 and we have new and daunting challenges ahead.

Strong foundations for global challenges

The COVID-19 crisis has showed, more than ever, the value of a strong strategy, the ability to take risks, and the need to act courageously. Right across College, our people have risen to the challenges bringing expertise and discovery in epidemiology, diagnostics, therapies, clinical practices, policies and economic impact to address the pandemic. New partners have emerged, new levels of courage have been mustered.

We have known that universities had to change to adapt to societal evolution and our community has adapted swiftly to a rapidly changing environment. While we might not have predicted a global pandemic shifting us to remote working and online teaching and learning, our strategies had prepared us to seize opportunities and face challenges.

We have accomplished a lot outside of this unprecedented event. Our core disciplines are stronger than ever leading to new discoveries in every field. Our Academic Strategy is based on these strong foundations and leads to tangible benefits to society. It builds on the way Imperial reaches across disciplines and embeds the educational experience in a vibrant, research-led, entrepreneurial environment. We focus on the ways we are helping society become more sustainable, healthy, smart and resilient. These attributes have never been more pressing.

Great people: our College community

We will build upon our accomplishments improving our supportive, diverse, inclusive and highly motivated staff community where our engagement with the Race Equality Charter, Disability Confident, Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and Athena Swan have increased awareness and improved policies and practices. 

Informing, influencing and inspiring

The changes in the UK over the past year have given us opportunities to be seized and challenges to be met. There are risks to be taken and bets to be made. We have been at the heart of efforts to persuade government of the value of science, research and education to the future of the UK. We and our partners across the country in higher education, research and industry, successfully made the case for the UK investment in R&D to rise to 2.4% of GDP by 2027. We are now poised to take advantage of this immense opportunity, and we must be proactive.

Our Academic Strategy creates new opportunities to do just that. The first two initiatives in the strategy illustrate this well.

In the Towards Zero Pollution initiative, our world-leading research and education comes together with strength and purpose to systematically address the problems of pollution. This complements the way our community is rising to the challenges posed by climate change through Sustainable Imperial’s work to help our campuses and every member of our community to reduce their carbon footprint.

A second initiative brings together our expertise and infrastructure, from molecular synthesis to AI, to revolutionise how we create new molecules, from new drugs to more effective catalysts, to meet a wide range of societal needs.

Making the most of these ambitious projects will require collaboration with partners in industry and research and higher education institutions across the UK and internationally. Investment must optimise outcomes for the UK as a whole.

Enablers: the way forward 

Our ability to try new things, to provide an environment supporting individuals to be bold and take risks, and to work across disciplines should give us confidence to seize opportunities.

One such opportunity is in the government’s proposal to experiment with new funding approaches, giving researchers greater freedom to pursue long-range projects to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges. This is called UK ARPA, modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency. This approach will be even more beneficial if its founders take a lesson from jazz, and encourage improvisation and collaboration with trusted partners within the UK and abroad.