Principal Thoughts: Making our founder, Sir William Wells, proud

Posted on: 2019-12-23

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. This month, Ashley reflects on our centenary year activity and examines how the past 100 years have achieved the aims of our founder, Sir William Wells.


If it wasn’t for Sir William Wells, I would not be writing this article. University College of Estate Management would not be in existence and the vast contribution made by the institution to both the Built Environment and society, in general, would not have occurred.


In January 1918, Sir William Wells gave the Presidential address to the Auctioneers’ and Estate Agents’ Institute in which, importantly, he proposed the establishment of a College dealing exclusively with estate management and its related subjects.

Sir William’s speech struck a chord and, within a short space of time, funds were raised to support his vision.

On 22 December, 1919, the College of Estate Management was founded and three years later, the College was granted a Royal Charter which would detail the institution’s core purpose which remains the driving force underpinning all it does.

This core purpose, comprised by Sir William who was by this point College President, was: to provide truly accessible, relevant and cost-effective education, enabling students to enhance careers, increase professionalism and contribute to a better Built Environment.

Living the core purpose

Judging what the institution has achieved in its first century against this core purpose, it’s impossible not to conclude that UCEM has fulfilled this guiding principle.

Accessible education

UCEM has always done its utmost to provide educational opportunities to as many people as possible. Its foundation provided opportunities for people to forge careers in estate management when the UK needed skilled workers to construct the ‘homes fit for heroes’ called for by Prime Minister, David Lloyd George; course material was sent out during the Second World War to servicemen and Prisoners of War; students have studied with us from all across the world; and we moved into the realm of online learning.

Our first steps into online learning were in 2001 with the launch of our Virtual Learning Environment. The scope of our online offer expanded rapidly to the point where we became a fully online institution, helping us realise our vision to become the leading vocational, online university. In terms of accessibility, this means students from all corners of the globe can study with us provided they have an internet connection.

We are developing the accessibility of our online learning materials to ensure students with disabilities, such as impaired vision, can access our programmes and this is a continual process to guard against any barriers to study with us.

Relevant education

From its inception, the institution provided education which was needed to support existing and aspiring professionals in the Built Environment. Relevant education during the Second World War meant providing specific courses to support the Women’s Land Army.

Key to the provision of relevant education has been the relationship we have had, and continue to have, with employers. It’s important we always listen to employers and professional bodies in the Built Environment, and adapt when necessary to accommodate the provision of skills which are most needed by the sector. This is demonstrable in the shifts over the decades from providing certain subjects, such as rural surveying courses and diplomas in shopping centre management, when the need has arisen and removing them when demand in the sector falls (then in some cases, resurrecting them again!).

In recent years, the need for professionals to obtain CPD credits has increased and the launch of our Online Academy has answered the call of industry with its bespoke short CPD courses. Most recently, we launched our BSc and level 6 apprenticeship in building control which are two incredibly important programmes which should help with expanding the workforce tasked with making our buildings safe – skills which should never be taken for granted, particularly post-Grenfell.

Further programmes, which will increase the diversity of subjects we offer, are in the pipeline and we remain closely aligned with our professional partners in delivering an academic offer in tune with the sector.

Cost-effective education

In wishing to provide educational opportunities in estate management for as many people as possible, the Royal Charter accounted for making courses as affordable as possible. It’s a source of pride for all associated with the institution that, in coordination with the British Red Cross, fees were waived when sending correspondence courses out to British Prisoners of War during the Second World War. This meant the institution took a financial hit but the Trustees at the time were recorded in Board meeting minutes as declaring it their ‘moral duty’ to do this.

In the modern era, programmes have been less expensive than most universities offering the same degrees and the dawn of online learning means students don’t have to worry about accommodation bills too. International students pay the same fees as UK students and our commitment to cost-effective education is unwavering.

Enhancing careers, increasing professionalism and contributing to a better Built Environment

More than 150,000 students have successfully studied with us since 1919. That is a remarkable amount of people who will have enhanced their careers through studying on a UCEM programme.

It is without doubt that the institution has increased professionalism in the sector which, cumulatively, has seen our alumni, armed with greater knowledge and skills than before they studied with us, make a positive difference to the Built Environment. We’ve highlighted some shining examples from our alumni community this year, from Irene Barclay to Doreen Thorp, up to the present day in Dame Alison Nimmo DBE, and there are countless alumni achievements taking place every day which makes our Built Environment continually better.

Enhancing the careers of our students which increases professionalism and contributes to a better Built Environment underpins everything we do.

A period of reflection

Our centenary year, therefore, has given us pause to reflect on UCEM’s progress so far and, judged against the high standards envisaged by Sir William Wells all the way back in 1918, I think the institution has done him proud.

Looking forward, we have a hugely exciting long-term vision which is ‘to be the Centre of Excellence for Built Environment Education’ which will see us offer a wider breadth of programmes across a greater depth of levels. It’s an ambitious vision and I can’t wait to get started.

As far as we go with it and evolve moving forward, it remains true to our core purpose so we won’t go far wrong and can enhance the legacy of our founder and his admirable ambitions for generations to come.

At UCEM, we are committed to contributing to a better Built Environment sector through excellence in online education. We deliver approved apprenticeship programmes, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. For more information take a look at our Study With UCEM page.

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