Principal's Update November 2013

Principal's Update November 2013

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

Dear Colleagues


I wanted to begin this update with a brief reminder to colleagues that the safety and wellbeing of all members of our community is of paramount importance to the University.  I know that colleagues take these issues seriously but as has been illustrated by some recent incidents, we can never take safety for granted. For that reason, and with the support of our Court, we are committed to constantly ensuring that our safety culture is embedded and that we always consider opportunities for how it can be enhanced. In that spirit, I would ask all colleagues to be aware of all aspects of safety at work and, as I am sure you do, to look out for the safety not only of each other, but equally our students and visitors to our campus.

Vice-Principal for Internationalisation and International Champions

I am delighted to share with colleagues the announcement of two sets of appointments for the leadership of the University’s international ambitions.

Professor Seth Kunin, currently Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Arts and Humanities) at the University of Durham, has been appointed with effect from 1 January 2014 as the University’s new Vice-Principal for Internationalisation. At Durham Seth has, in addition to leadership of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, had responsibility for developing their Internationalisation strategy and has experience of the key issues that a UK research intensive university faces in this vital area. Seth is a highly respected academic in Divinity and knows the University of Aberdeen well having previously been an academic here and Director of Research in the College of Arts and Social Sciences between 2003-5.

As Vice-Principal for Internationalisation, Seth will be responsible for implementing the University’s Internationalisation Strategy and ensuring there is co-ordination of activities across the Colleges. Key aspects of the role will be to lead and promote our overseas student recruitment activities and to identify opportunities for collaborations with overseas universities, organisations and governments.

Of course, the overriding general objective for Seth will be to further raise the University’s international reputation and profile, something which is fundamental to our future success. In support of this, I am also very pleased to announce the appointment of four International Champions who will work closely with the new Vice-Principal for Internationalisation in particular geographic areas of responsibility. These are:

Dr Alfred Akisanya (Engineering) - Dean for Sub Saharan Africa Affairs

Professor Richard Wells (Chemistry) - Dean for Middle East and South East Asia Affairs

Professor Bill Naphy (History) - Dean for North American Affairs

Professor Barbara Fennell (Language and Literature) - Dean of Chinese Affairs

The International Champions will provide a focus for overseas student recruitment within their respective geographical area of responsibility but will also support the development of research, teaching and business networks in those areas in line with University strategy.

Internationalisation is at the centre of our vision for the future of the University. These new senior appointments will provide the academic leadership required to help us deliver on our strategic objectives and advance the University’s position as one of the world’s leading universities. I am sure all colleagues will want to join with me in welcoming them to their respective roles.

Times Higher World  Rankings          

Many of you will have read this year’s world university rankings for  2013-14 as recently published by The Times Higher Educational Supplement. Aberdeen is ranked 188th. On one level, being ranked in the Top 200 higher education institutions in the world (and as I reported last month, being ranked in the Top 150 by the QS World University Rankings) is the company which the University wants to keep. It is more important, however, that we have the ambition to see Aberdeen not simply being within the Top 200 but progressing up these rankings to a position where we are consistently seen to be a university of global distinction.

The question of how we achieve this global ambition is one that we discussed extensively at our recent meeting of Court. While the frame of reference of league tables can never be ignored – they are inevitably indicators that potential students, funders and industry partners will turn to – our discussion at Court was rooted in how we deliver the challenging objectives we have set in our Strategic Plan and how we define the kind of university we want Aberdeen to be. It was a discussion which was very much characterised by the importance of providing a world class student experience and, on the research side, by the kind of post-REF submission reflection that is already taking place and which will be a focus for us in the coming year.

Aberdeen Institute of Energy

Following the appointment of John Scrimgeour as Executive Director of the Aberdeen Institute of Energy, I am pleased to announce that Kathy Fowler, will be seconded from her current role as College Registrar for the College of Physical Sciences, to support John in the development of the Institute. Kathy has extensive experience of the University, particularly with regard to Energy related teaching and research from her experience in the College of Physical Sciences.  The success of the new Institute is critical to how we make a step change in our profile within the wider Energy community and I am delighted that Kathy has agreed to accept this appointment.

Meetings with Staff

A quick note of thanks to all those colleagues who attended the recent open meetings with staff where we had some helpful discussions regarding developments in Professional Services, OneSource (which I say more about below) and a briefing on a range of new initiatives that are improving the IT services and support for staff and students. The meetings were very well attended but if you had a comment or question that you would like to have raised but were not able to then please do get in touch.

I have also had the opportunity to meet with staff on visits to the Schools of Law, Medicine and Dentistry, and Social Sciences. At these visits staff took the opportunity to raise with Stephen Logan and myself some of the challenges that everyone is facing. These were constructive meetings and demonstrated clearly the unswerving commitment to excellence and the energy of colleagues.


I have remarked before on how important a project OneSource is in transforming how we conduct the business of the University and I would encourage staff to take the time to learn more about the programme by visiting

I know, however, that many of us have already begun to understand the benefits we will experience through OneSource, I know also that having seen the potential benefit, it is hard not to want it all to happen by tomorrow. The project team understand that too and are committed to implementing the programme as quickly as possible but they must also do so without compromising on the quality of the end result.

It is also worth noting that, with excellent support from the Students’ Association, we have been able to engage with our students on the implementation of OneSource and what it will mean for them. More and more students are becoming interested in the programme, particularly as the prospect of choosing their curriculum online draws closer.

Confucius Institute

The launch of the Confucius Institute several weeks ago was a wonderful event which we were able to celebrate in the presence of the First Minister of Scotland but also senior representatives of the UK Chinese Embassy and Wuhan University our partners in China. As has been reported, we are one of only five universities in Scotland to host an Institute, and we know it will be of significant importance not only to the University’s internationalisation activities and in growing both our own and Scotland’s links with China but to the many organisations and businesses in the region looking to develop or strengthen their trade links with China. It is also important to recognise that the Institute will be a fantastic resource for the local community, particularly for schools.   


Staying on the subject of schools, we regularly hold informal events with Headteachers to help keep them updated on developments within the University and to foster closer links through which we can continue to promote Aberdeen to future students. Our most recent event was focused on schools in the North-East. It was extremely well attended and as such was a reminder to me of the tremendous goodwill there is towards the University within the education community, an advantage that we must continue to use to help us encourage and inspire future potential students.

 AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership and Aberdeen University Press

 The recent confirmation that the University will share in a £14.2M AHRC funding award to support postgraduate training and scholarships in the Arts and Humanities is very welcome news. Increasing our numbers of postgraduate research students is crucial to our future success as a research-led university and we need more awards like this to help facilitate that growth.

I’d also like to highlight to staff that we have re-launched the Aberdeen University Press, a development that we hope will benefit academic staff and help us to further engage the wider public with academic work at Aberdeen.

Independence Debates

With the publication of the White Paper this week and as we countdown the months, weeks and days to the Referendum next September, the subject of Independence is certain to dominate the Scottish media. Over the past month or so the University has hosted two interesting public debates around the topic of Independence. First, Paul Beaumont and Michael Keating (who is also closely involved in the ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change) were involved in leading a debate around the question of an Independent Scotland’s relationship with Europe. This was followed by a further event on the future of science and education organised by the British Academy and the Royal Society of Edinburgh as part of a series of debates on topics linked to the constitutional question.

I am delighted to see the University and our academic staff both engaging in and leading these kinds of discussions. There is a constant need to ensure that in the frenzy of media coverage that surrounds the Independence debate we also have the kind of impartial and rigorous analysis of issues that voters in Scotland need to make an informed decision on how they will cast their vote. Universities in Scotland and academics as public intellectuals have a key role in supporting and shaping these important national discussions.

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor


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