Principal's Update: June 2013

Principal's Update: June 2013

The latest update for staff from the Principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond

Dear Colleagues         


As colleagues who were present will attest, the Installation of HRH The Duchess of Rothesay as our new Chancellor was a wonderful event which brought together many strands of the University family – staff, students, alumni, civic society and members of the local community. It was wonderful also to welcome Iain Torrance back to the University as Pro-Chancellor.

It was an occasion where it was impossible not to reflect on the great history of our University and the privilege it is to be engaged in its future success. I would also record my considerable appreciation for the professionalism of staff involved in the organisation of this major event which I know will have left a very positive impression on the many guests present. For those who may be interested here is the link to some photographs from the day. 


Thanks are also due to everyone involved in the May Festival which was attended by some 7,000 people at over 100 events at venues across the City and Aberdeenshire. The Festival was truly wide ranging with events spanning science, music, literature, film, Gaelic, and food and nutrition and as part of which we took the opportunity to showcase much of the work that the University is engaged in. I attended a number of events and have to say that the performances by our students that I saw were particularly impressive. The feedback from visitors has been positive and the Schools Programme was particularly popular. My congratulations to all involved in making the weekend such a success. 


Together with the University of Dundee and the James Hutton Institute, good progress has been made in taking forward our Alliance in the area of Food Security. This will formally be known as Food Security Alliances Scotland – Crops and it was launched at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh last week. We are now building on this model to explore opportunities for further initiatives in Marine Science and Aquaculture.


MSc in Petrophysics

As colleagues will have read, we recently announced a new partnership with the global energy services company Senergy. The partnership with Senergy, which was launched by the Chief Executive of Oil and Gas UK, has been to develop an MSc Petrophysics and Formation Evaluation programme in response to growing demand for petrophysicists. The programme is believed to be a world first not only because it is dedicated to the discipline of petrophysics but also because it is designed as a modular programme to allow a flexible approach for people wishing to combine studies with their career. It is another very positive example of our growing engagement with industry in the development of our postgraduate masters provision. 

Colombian Energy Delegation

Following the participation of Professor Albert Rodger, Vice-Principal for External Affairs, in a UK Ministerial Trade visit to Colombia, the University has been assigned lead responsibility for furthering discussions with Colombia in the area of Oil and Gas Training. As part of this, we recently welcomed a group of senior representatives from the Colombian Government, the Colombian Association of Petroleum Engineers, the British Embassy in Colombia, and Scottish Development International to meet with key academics at Aberdeen and a range of Oil and Gas companies. The visit was successful and we are optimistic that it will enable us to position the University as a leading partner with Colombia for Oil and Gas Education in the UK.


I have been involved in discussions with regard to both the Universities UK submission to the UK Government’s forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review and Universities Scotland’s corresponding submission to the Scottish Government Spending Review over the summer. Both submissions will focus on making the case for continuing investment in the higher education sector as a critical driver of growth - and as a vehicle for transforming lives - while at the same time emphasising the efficiency and effectiveness of the sector’s use of existing public funding.

It is difficult to be certain about what the outcome of these will be, although one of course hopes for as good a settlement as we can possibly get. However, such is the financial climate at present that in terms of the Scottish Review which will refine budgets for 2014/15 and set indicative budgets for 2015/16, an outcome which resulted in protecting funding in real terms would be seen by many as a very positive result. Indeed, given the national financial position and potential for cuts in other areas a ‘flat cash’ settlement might still be regarded by some as satisfactory. I hope, of course, that the outcome is much better than what is being suggested, but I think it is important that colleagues appreciate the reality of these national level discussions.


Given the continuing fiscal restraints being set at national levels, it is all the more impressive and important to see colleagues securing significant grant awards across the Colleges. I won’t list all the awards but would note that many have come from Europe or from UK Research Councils where competition for funding is fierce. This once again demonstrates the immense quality of scholarship at our University.


The University has recently received confirmation that it has achieved the Silver Award in the Scottish Government’s Health Working Lives initiative. This initiative is intended to encourage employers to promote a safer and healthier workforce and the Silver Award is a welcome recognition of the number of initiatives that we have been putting in place to better support the health and well-being or our staff. You can read more about these at In the meantime, congratulations to all who have been involved in getting us to this stage and who are now looking at how we can achieve the Gold Award.


The student sporting calendar has been winding down but a short note of congratulations to the Women’s Fencing team who recently secured promotion to the British Universities Premier League and Jamie Steel and Sophie Gottke who won silver in the Women’s Championship Lightweight Pairs at the BUCS Regatta last month.

I’d also like to congratulate Clare McWilliams, President for Sport, and all her colleagues on their success in increasing membership of the Sports Union by 28% this year, meaning an extra 600 students taking part in sport.


I know that with the end of the examinations period this will have been a particularly busy time for colleagues. I pass on my thanks to all colleagues who are working hard to ensure that we continue to provide timely assessment and feedback to students. We can now look forward to graduation, the celebration of all that we and our students have achieved together. I am looking forward very much to seeing many of you at the ceremonies.


I’d very much encourage colleagues to take some time to look at a new venture in which the University is a founding partner. The Conversation is intended to address what many consider to be a growing lack of ‘facts’ in the reporting of news, a trend caused to some extent by the rise of the internet resulting in column inches being increasingly dedicated to opinion columnists.

There is an opportunity here for universities to fill the gap and provide the high quality analysis that many feel is lacking from so much of contemporary media discussion. The Conversation is already an established Australian operation that has now been launched in the UK. You can see the Australian edition here and the new UK edition here. In general terms it is an online newspaper written by academics with expert editing and the hope is that the national press will use it as a resource. The site is updated twice daily and will publish 60 to 70 items per week. Already a number of Aberdeen academics have published pieces on the website. You can sign up for a daily update if you wish and I would strongly encourage colleagues to consider becoming a contributor. Our Communications team can provide further information and advice on ext 2014. 


Finally, I’d like to congratulate Professor Hugh Pennington CBE, Emeritus Professor of Bacteriology and Professor Alison Macleod CBE, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, who were named in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Professor Pennington is well known, of course, for his service to microbiology and food hygiene and Professor Macleod for her work on kidney disease. I’m sure all colleagues past and present would join me in congratulating them on this achievement.

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor