UCL Culture and its controversial proposal to restructure UCL museums

In February 2018, UCL Culture announced a consultation for a proposed re-structure. The proposal is controversial for many reasons.

  • In detail, the plan has many faults.
  • In overall vision, the plan proposals some quite odd directions and seems quite out of step with modern university museums and public engagement.
  • In terms of a consultation process, this proposal has been an embarrassing disaster. The unit did not circulate any documents associated with this consultation, and managers sharply criticised this site for posting them, citing “data protection” issues even though one the unit’s top managers agreed the documents posted were public and could be circulated.
  • In terms of unit philosophy, this consultation makes a shambles of the unit’s core philosophy of engagement. “…we believe everyone throughout the university and across the communities we serve has an active part to play,” it says (manifesto)“We believe that it starts with ‘the power of open’; open to sharing and developing knowledge, open to discussion and debate and vitally, open in terms of access to that knowledge.” (Simon Cane, Director UCL Culture source)

Seems the UCL restructure is a consultation where outsiders aren’t supposed to know what’s going on. It’s a process where outsiders don’t get a say. After reading the proposal, hundreds of people realised why that might be so: this is a terrible plan and it shouldn’t be implemented. Seems this consultation is a process where power has been held firmly by a small team who think they know best. The very best the managers have said about engagement has been that university executives were “informed and supplied” with a business case. How is this the power of “open” with the community?


Original proposal widely and fully criticised. 13 February 2018 proposal was criticised in an avalanche of letters submitted to the consultation project. How many is an avalanche? The unit has not disclosed. I’ve seen more than 270 letters submitted by stakeholders who have criticised the proposal and recommended rejection. These were copied to me on submission. It’s fair to say, this community think the proposal should be rejected.

End of consultation period. 13 March 2018. This rather odd consultation process ran for only 30 days. The unit’s managers chose to postpone decisions until the end of April.

Decision making. end of April 2018. With a month of pause passing, decisions are starting to emerge. What’s most disconcerting is that there appears to be a plan about to be implemented, not acceptance by management that they got this wrong and they need to consult stakeholders widely. Was the postponement merely part of a delaying tactic? Is there a strategy to announce what amounts to cosmetic changes so as to blow smoke over the fundamental and structural concerns raised about this proposal?

We wait and see.


Site authorship

Professor Joe Cain created this site. I’m an academic at UCL. I am not an employee of UCL Culture. I speak for myself, unless I make clear something else. More about me here.


9 thoughts on “UCL Culture and its controversial proposal to restructure UCL museums

  1. I am not an academic but have been a serious student of Egyptology for twenty years. I support the museum and it has been a serious and uselful research tool. The proposed changes would seriously undermine the integrity of the museum. There fore I object to the proposals.


  2. As I understand it you get a shiny new outreach building promoting the cultural profile of your institution and dumb down on the expertise behind it. I think the word for this is ‘shallow’. It’s a triumph of packaging over content that would certainly win a marketing award for the likes of Kraft/Mondelez, but not what one would expect from London’s most wide-ranging research university.


  3. I am really concerned at what UCL Culture is proposing, which seems to me reducing teh specialist academic expertise across several UCL museums in the name of providing a more ‘integrated service’. Academic expertise in museums should not be underestimated – it is what makes the collections useful for the diverse communities who want to access them. The Petrie Museum (which I know best) actively engages with school groups, students, academic researchers, film crews, tourists, and more. It can do so because it has an expert academic staff who can not only curate the collection properly but communicate meaningfully with these diverse audiences. To take away that academic expertise is the equivalent of turning a bespoke Savile Row tailors into Primark. And once the academic expertise is gone, it is hugely difficult to restore, to the detriment of everyone, including UCL and its academic community. I strongly urge UCLC to think again, and to extend this consultation period so that others can have a meaningful say


  4. The Petrie Museum is one of the most important ancient Egyptian collections in the world, I was shocked to read about the proposed restructuring and the effects it will have. If this happens in London at UCL I wonder what will happen soon to other relatively small collections in the UK and worldwide. Please, do think twice before undermining the efficiency of such an important museum.


  5. This is an ill thought through proposal, that has been has been circulated in a rush to avoid any consultation. It ignores the impact that this restructure will have upon teaching and research in the collections. It removes skill, expertise and the ability of UCL culture to deliver it’s services to the University and public. Stafff and students are supposed to be UCL Culture’s primary audience. It is deffcult to see how this will be the case after this re-structure. There statements that don’t represent the reality of the current situation e.g. conservation at UCLC does not just focus on loans , but is an organised ongoing programme across several of the museums. As well s contibuting conserably to remedial consertion across al UCL cultural assets. I would urge that the period of consultation is extended and that the re-structure itself is reconsidered.

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  6. Terrible restructuring. The Petrie Museum is a world class assemblage that must be kept by professionals and maintained as a discrete collection. It is an unparalleled resource for Egyptology.

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