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“Students are lazy”

Lori Houlihan, Vice-Provost (Development), says it is the stereotypes, not the students, that are lazy – and there are plenty of examples to prove it.

Illustrations BloodBros

Kasim’s accounts of electric fences, vomit and recycling his own sweat – all in a good cause – are not for the faint-hearted

Grubby duvets, bedroom curtains kept closed all day, daytime TV and toast as one of the major food groups. Students are a popular target for easy laughs: “If tomorrow isn’t the due date, today isn’t the do date.”

But all the usual stereotypes bear little relation to the hard-working, talented and motivated people I meet every day at UCL.

Our students have access to a superb education, but they worked hard to get here and they work even harder to make the most of it. And many of them also put in enormous time and effort to share that opportunity with others as well.

Some of you reading this will have run a marathon at some point. Others (including me) probably can’t imagine having the ability or energy to do such a thing. Very few will have run seven marathons in seven days.

But that’s exactly what UCL student Kasim Ali did in November last year to raise money for UCL scholarships for young people affected by the Grenfell Tower fire – a devastating fire in a tower block in west London that killed an estimated 71 people.

Kasim describes this feat as an exercise in not knowing your own limits, and his accounts of electric fences, vomit and recycling his own sweat are not for the faint-hearted. But through it all shines his commitment, as a resident of the same borough as Grenfell, to make sure that the talent of young people caught up in this tragedy is given every chance to shine through.

Kasim’s method of supporting others might be unusual (and indeed masochistic), but his desire to do so is not. Students across UCL are contributing their time and creativity to open doors, alleviate suffering and reduce inequality – particularly those who have themselves been helped.

Chemical Engineering student Shahid Janatmir was 11 years old before he could read and write in his native language Pashto. His school in eastern Afghanistan was frequently closed by snow, flooding and financial challenges – but most often by crossfire between insurgents and foreign troops. He arrived in the UK in 2008 as a refugee, speaking no English and with hardly any formal education.

However, with immense application, he caught up with and, in many cases, overtook fellow pupils at his new school in Derby, excelling in his GCSEs and A-levels.

Shahid is now one of UCL’s star students, here thanks to a scholarship funded by alumnus Dr John Elliott. And despite working so hard to get here, he’s still not taking it easy. As a STEM Ambassador, he visits schools and colleges across London to inspire pupils to follow his lead.

He also regularly travels back to Derby to volunteer in community centres, helping young people with little, if any, experience of higher education to fill in UCAS forms and develop their personal statements – transforming lives as his has been transformed.

At a recent event to celebrate and thank all those donors who create scholarships at UCL, Shahid told them they were not just changing lives but “creating stories”.

This is a beautiful idea: stories are a living encouragement, firing the imagination and reminding us of the possibilities inherent in our own lives. To change one life is to create a story that inspires change in countless more.

I don’t want to give a false impression of all work and no play. Students come to UCL to have fun, make friends and try new things. And we’ve all been guilty of crashing a few essay deadlines from time to time.

But my experience is that the stereotypes of students are far lazier than any student I have ever met.

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Portico Issue 4. 2017/18