Principal's Update February 2014

Principal's Update February 2014

The latest Update for staff from Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

Dear Colleagues

Vice-Principal for Internationalisation

Following announcement of his appointment last year, Seth Kunin has now joined us and is quickly getting to grips with the exciting opportunities and challenges that exist in the area of Internationalisation. Since taking up his post last month, Seth has already met with many colleagues and I am sure will be keen to continue to meet with those of you who are directly engaged in the various aspects of the Internationalisation agenda. If you would like to offer Seth any thoughts to input into his emerging plans then please email him or arrange to meet.


We received the formal report of the Enhancement Led Institutional Review (ELIR) in January and as I suggested in my last update, the results are very good with the University receiving the most positive judgement an ELIR Panel can bestow. This means the University has robust arrangements for securing academic standards and for enhancing the quality of the student experience. The Panel also highlighted a significant number of positive practices including:

  •  Curriculum Reform and its transformational effect on all areas of learning and teaching;
  • MyAberdeen and its development in response to student views;
  • Our provision of systematic student support and in particular the new Personal Tutoring scheme;
  • Our  arrangements for promoting employability and delivering the Aberdeen Graduate Attributes;
  • the University’s positive and constructive relationship with the Aberdeen University Students’ Association;
  • the Centre for Academic Development’s  emerging role in providing coordinated staff development and support across the University; and
  • The institution’s culture of self-reflection and critical self-evaluation and in particular the methodical and detailed critical analysis provided by our Internal Teaching Review process.

This outcome sends a really positive message about the student experience at Aberdeen to potential students and others.  I pass on my considerable thanks to you all, not only for the help you have given to our Enhancement-led Institutional Review, but also for all your efforts to improve continually the experience our students have when they come to Aberdeen.

National Student Survey

The 2014 National Student Survey will shortly commence and I would like to highlight to colleagues how important it is to the reputation of the University with potential applicants. The survey of final year undergraduate students at all UK universities is compiled externally and takes place between February and April. A key issue can often be the number of students who respond to the survey and we want to encourage as many final year students as possible to participate, first so that these data can help to identify and address areas where the student experience at Aberdeen could be improved for continuing students, and second to help us raise the profile with potential applicants of the University as home to a great student experience. Research shows that around 40% of respondents identify that they complete the survey because they are encouraged to do so by lecturers or other members of staff. I would therefore encourage you to promote the NSS with final year students at every opportunity, and to ask colleagues to do the same.

Bureaucracy Review Working group

Dr Chris Brittain, Senior Lecturer, Divinity, has kindly agreed to lead this short-life working group to identify where there are administrative tasks or processes in the University that impact negatively on our effectiveness, particularly with regard to teaching and research. He is being joined by Professors Gordon Brown from CLSM, Bernadette Hayes from CASS and Tom O’Donoghue from COPS. I know that in addition to taking up valuable time, ‘bureaucracy’, can be hugely frustrating and demoralising for academic colleagues. We do though need an effective streamlined set of processes and sometimes, of course, the bureaucracy is at the behest of funding bodies or other external agencies rather than the University. However, we hope this Review can help to identify where there are processes that we can improve and thereby help colleagues focus on their core roles of teaching and research. I would encourage colleagues with comments or suggestions for the Review to contact Chris Brittain (Convener -, Caroline Inglis (University Secretary - or Heather Crabb (Clerk to the Review

Health and Safety

Following on from discussions at recent meetings of the University Court, the University is taking forward a review of health and safety culture in the University over the coming months. The health and safety of our staff, our students and those who visit our campuses is paramount and there is already a positive attitude and awareness of the importance of this across the University. However, it is good practice for all of us as staff to be looking for issues or ways in which we can enhance our health and safety culture and this review offers us an opportunity to do that.

New Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health Building

As colleagues at Foresterhill will know, construction of the new building for the Rowett Institute is progressing with the structure now having reached its highest point. We recently marked this milestone in the project with a short ‘topping out’ ceremony which was also an opportunity to promote to the wider community how the £37M building will place Aberdeen at the forefront of international nutrition and health research. The Rowett celebrated its centenary last year and so it is starting its second century in a truly exciting way with the construction of this state-of-the-art facility which is expected to open in 2015.

Inaugural Lectures in Medicine, Nutrition and Health

A short reminder about this lecture series which will feature a selection of new academic appointments in the College of Life Sciences and Medicine giving Inaugural public lectures around the theme of Medicine, Nutrition and Health. I was privileged to Chair the first, an excellent tour de force by Vicki Entwistle, and I know the forthcoming lectures will be equally outstanding. It is great to be welcoming these new colleagues who joined the University following our recent academic recruitment campaign.

SFC Funding Letter

The University has now received confirmation of its core grant funding from the Scottish Funding Council for 2014/15 and as expected given the continuing restraints on public funding, the University’s main research and teaching grants will essentially remain flat (+0.23%), with the overall position in Scotland being an increase of 1.92%. The reason for our being lower than the mean is that we continue to lose funds as a result of the SFC withdrawing funding for RUK students. This illustrates the restricted financial environment that the University is operating in and reinforces the importance of the University continuing with the diversification of its funding base both in teaching and research to help us continue the investment we have been able to make in staff and facilities.

Data 2 Text ‘Spin-Out’

I was delighted to see one of the University’s spin-out companies progressing to commercial success recently with the flotation of Arria NLG on the London Stock Exchange.  Arria last year acquired Data2Text, a company formed by academics in Computing Science to develop Natural Language Generation (NLG) research. NLG is a form of artificial intelligence which can communicate information extracted from complex data sources into natural language. As an example of its applications, the Met Office is using the tool to translate weather data into text for weather forecasts. 

ARRIA NLG now employs 17 staff based in Old Aberdeen and it is important to remember that its success in getting to this point is based upon over 20 years of research at the University by its academic founders. It is a great example of the University’s continuing success at bringing its excellence in research to commercial application.

Founders’ Day

Our annual service to celebrate the University’s establishment and to give thanks to Bishop Elphinstone and our other Founders was held on 9 February. A packed congregation in the Chapel heard a wonderful sermon around the theme of hope by the Right Reverend Lorna Hood, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (and mother of one of our graduates!) as well as hearing some magnificent singing by the Choir.

Long Service Awards

Our annual Long Service Awards ceremony for colleagues who have given 25 or 40 years’ service to the University took place recently. It was striking to hear in the ceremony the testimonials to the 8 individuals who were marking 40 years at the University and the varied ways in which each of them had contributed to the success and transformation of Aberdeen. It was a pleasure to be able to thank these colleagues on behalf of the whole institution for their outstanding dedication to the University.

Women in Science: MRC Science Heirloom Award

Many congratulations are due to Professor Lynda Erskine in Medical Sciences who has been awarded the 2014 MRC Clinical Sciences Centre “Science Heirloom” Award. This is a scheme launched in 2011 to mark 100 years of women in life sciences. It recognises the achievements of leading women in life sciences with each awardee then nominating a female peer to whom the science heirloom is passed on. It is a very welcome award for one of our female Professors to be receiving and encouraging in terms of our own efforts to achieve Athena Swan status.

Student Sporting Success

A short note to highlight the achievements of two students, Zoey Clark and Stephen Dunlop, who were part of the National Scottish Athletics Team competing at the recent International Athletics Meet in Glasgow. To see our student athletes competing at this national level is great and adds to the University’s growing reputation as a place where student athletes can thrive. Congratulations to both students on their success.

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor