Principal Thoughts: Reflections on five years at the helm

Posted on: 2018-12-10

Welcome to the latest edition of Ashley Wheaton’s ‘Principal Thoughts’. In this edition, Ashley reflects on his five years as Principal of UCEM, selecting five highlights from a momentous period in the institution’s history, and looks ahead to next year’s centenary celebrations.

Last month, on 1 November, I reached the milestone of five years as Principal of this fantastic institution.

This date provided me with an opportunity to take stock of the journey UCEM has been on since 2013 and I wanted to share some of my highlights from this period with you.


On 1 November, 2013, The College of Estate Management was in its 43rd year of residence in the URS Building within the University of Reading’s Whiteknights campus. Just prior to my arrival, CEM (as it was then) had gained taught degree awarding powers, commonly known as TDAP.

The granting of TDAP was the first significant step towards becoming a fully fledged independent, higher education institution. Gaining TDAP enabled us to validate our own programmes and not have to rely on any third parties.

TDAP was the foundation for full institutional independence and the next task was to secure a premises away from Whiteknights. This was achieved in 2016 with our move to 60 Queen’s Road which we now know as Horizons.

Securing the keys to a new HQ was by no means an easy feat. At times the negotiations were an incredibly fraught process, but the outcome was spectacular and I am incredibly proud of Horizons as a truly fit-for-purpose and inspiring workplace for the hundreds of hard-working colleagues I work with. The sustainability achievements of the building chime with my vision of how seriously UCEM takes sustainability as a whole.

The acquisition of Horizons was the final piece of the jigsaw in UCEM gaining institutional independence.

University college title

Of course, when I joined, the institution was still The College of Estate Management and the achievement of university college title in 2015 was transformational.

Adding ‘university’ to our title gave us greater prestige within the higher education sector and tied in with our independence ambitions mentioned above. The rebrand signalled a bold, new direction for UCEM as we decisively struck out on our own and sought to become the leading, vocational online university.

Student success

As fondly as I look back on securing a new workplace and gaining university college title, nothing has given me greater pleasure during my tenure thus far than hearing the countless stories of student success.

After all, we are nothing without our students and the inspirational anecdotes of our students overcoming adversity and the demands of completing a degree whilst in the throes of their career and often juggling family responsibilities never fails to astound me.

UCEM’s core purpose, as decreed by the strategic interpretation of our Royal Charter, is ‘to provide truly accessible, relevant and cost-effective education, enabling students to enhance careers, increase professionalism and contribute to a better Built Environment’.

It therefore gives me great pride that we have had more than double the number of students than when I started five years ago, more than doubling the expertise of those making a difference to the sector.

Something I never could have envisioned upon joining the institution was our move into further education and specifically, our provision of apprenticeships as an education provider.

It was a leap into the unknown but has transformed our educational delivery and enabled us to educate Built Environment professionals at an earlier stage of their career. To now be the largest provider of surveying degree apprenticeships is reflective of the commitment we have shown to the apprenticeships agenda.

Academic excellence

Whether through the successful Higher Education Review in 2016, our first Ofsted monitoring inspection or our highest ever result in the National Student Survey this year, time and time again, our programmes and learning delivery have been endorsed by the whole spectrum of regulatory bodies and sector-specific surveys.

We have comfortably overcome each challenge which has come our way and that recognition of the quality of our programmes has been a constant source of pride over the past five years.

Staff passion

Equally integral to the smooth functioning of UCEM are its staff and the passion of my colleagues has been inspiring to me from day one. The commitment to excellence demonstrated by UCEM staff is unwavering and gives me full confidence that we can continue to achieve great things moving forward.

Looking ahead

The past five years have seen a great deal of change for the institution but this period represents just one portion of our history which will be dissected and celebrated to a far greater extent in 2019 – our centenary year.

Next year is shaping up to be a very exciting one with a vast centenary calendar and the first changes being introduced to our programme delivery model which will be fully realised in 2020.

I have enjoyed my first five years at the helm but there is work to do and I look forward to overseeing further improvements at UCEM which will benefit the sector as we enter uncertain times.

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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