Principal's Update: June 2014

Principal's Update: June 2014

The latest Update for staff from University Principal, Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

Principal’s Update June 2014

Dear Colleagues


As I am sure colleagues will have read in my separate communication to staff, we are all deeply saddened by the loss of our Rector, Maitland Mackie, who died at the weekend. Not only have the students lost an excellent Rector, we as a University have lost one of our most successful graduates, a governor of 15 years and one of our most committed supporters. Maitland was passionate about the University he loved and he will be remembered with great fondness by our community. Our thoughts are very much with his family at this sad time.

World Rankings

Since my last update, colleagues may have read about our performance in the Quacquarelli Symonds, World University Rankings® by Subject. These subject-specific rankings look at three indicators:  Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation and Citations per Paper.

The results were encouraging with twelve subjects on offer at Aberdeen ranked among the top 200 universities in the world.  English Language & Literature and Philosophy were both included in the Top 150 for the first time alongside Medicine, Law, History, Environmental Sciences, and Geography. Economics is now in the top 200, alongside Pharmacology, Sociology, and Politics & International Studies. Agriculture and Forestry, which is a major part of the School of Biological Sciences, again featured in the top 100.     

More recently still, the 2014 U-Multirankings were announced. These are not league tables but an assessment of a University’s performance from (1 Very Good to 5 weak). It was pleasing to see the University being ranked as “Very Good” in the great majority of the sub-components of the research, knowledge transfer and International orientation categories.

Top Medical School in Scotland

I also want to congratulate all staff concerned and NHS colleagues who have confirmed our medical school as the best in Scotland, and 5th in the UK in the 2015 Complete University Guide. This is a considerable achievement and a brilliant story of how an early and pioneering commitment to the teaching of medicine over five centuries ago has kept us at the forefront today in a state-of-the-art building and a very different world of medical knowledge and practice.

Student Experience

Colleagues will know of my view that we must constantly be looking at how we can make the student experience ever better. A key part of that is, of course, listening to what our students have to say about the student experience and their ideas on how we can enhance their time at Aberdeen. This goes beyond how good our teaching is - fundamental though that is - as the recent Times Higher Education Student Experience survey shows. In this, the two categories that held us back were not at all related to teaching but were- “Good Students Union” and “Cheap shop/bar”. These are issues that students have raised with us and which we are addressing in the new Students’ Association building that is a key project in our £290M capital plan.

A few years ago it would have been our sports facilities where our ranking fell short and which, thanks to the investment we have made, we are now firmly ranked in the Top 10 for by students. The point I want to stress is that it is crucial to our reputation and future success in recruiting students that we are always asking ourselves what are the next set of initiatives that will make the student experience we offer even better.  To this end I have been holding a number of round tables looking at different aspects of the student experience, for example the transition to university, minimising drop out, and careers advice, and I will be holding a number of others. It is my view that we need to build on our already strong base by identifying best practice globally in all areas of the student experience and then innovating boldly so as to achieve our goals of a brilliant student experience.

Health and Safety

I’m grateful to colleagues who took the time to participate in the recent Health and Safety survey and was delighted by the high response rate, the results of which are now being analysed to enable us to identify how we can enhance our safety culture.

At this time, however, I’d like to remind colleagues that we can all help to reduce the risk of accidents in the University simply by reporting anything which we see in the course of our daily work that might pose a risk to health and safety, however minimal an issue it might seem. It is only through the vigilance of staff and the reporting of, for example, a maintenance issue that we can minimise such risks and help prevent accidents occurring.

May Festival

Last month we enjoyed welcoming many visitors onto campus for our second May Festival. While the weather was not particularly kind, we still saw large numbers of people attending thanks to the impressive range of events on offer over the course of the weekend from music through to science and the feedback has been very positive. The Festival is a wonderful platform to showcase the University, to engage with the wider community, to raise our profile nationally as well as locally, and to highlight the work of our some of our students. To organise and deliver an event of this scale takes considerable time and effort, and my thanks go to all staff who were involved in making the Festival, once again, such a success.

International Women’s Day Conference

Although it took place in March, I did not want to let an important conference that the University organised and hosted to mark International Women’s Day pass without comment. The conference was hugely successful and brought together a strong programme of inspirational keynote speakers focusing on the issues that face women in career development at the local, national and international level. An exhibition to tie in with the conference entitled, Inspiring Women: Women’s Exhibition, was also held to showcase the achievements of female graduates and staff.

In parallel, during the same week, the University also organised an event called Women in Science:  The Next Generation where around 80 female secondary pupils were invited to learn more about careers in science and engineering from a range of female academics.

The feedback from these events has been very positive and I was delighted to see the University taking a lead in marking International Women’s Day in these different ways. However, as I indicated in my address to the conference, such meetings are, ultimately, not terribly useful unless they are accompanied by real action to ensure that we, as a University, are a beacon of good practice in this area.

Project Search

Many colleagues will be aware of Project Search, and I want to draw your attention to the external recognition this is receiving for its valuable contribution to helping young people with disabilities to prepare for employment. The project is a collaboration between the University, Inspire (Partnership Through Life) and North East Scotland College. A cohort of 12 Interns entered the programme in September, which involves a mix of education and work experience. I am pleased that the interns are making excellent progress and will graduate this month.

The project has won an award from SURF, Scotland’s Independent Regeneration Network, and the University welcomed a number of high profile visitors in April to learn more about how it is working here. We will run Project Search again in 2014/15 and you can read more about it here.   

University Librarian and Director of External Relations

As colleagues will know we have recently welcomed to the University community Diane Bruxvoort, our new University Librarian, and Theresa Merrick, our new Director of External Relations. Diane joins us from the University of Florida and Theresa from Heriot-Watt University.  I know that both will make valuable contributions in their respective roles to the future success of the University and that staff will join me in making them feel very much at home.

Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards

I want to add my congratulations to all involved in the University’s short-listing in two categories in this year’s Times Higher Leadership and Management Awards. The team behind the University’s research and commercialisation of Natural Language Generation software have been listed in the Knowledge Transfer category, and our Shared Data Centre Project is listed in the ICT category. The winners are announced this month and I know we will all be hoping that those involved return home with well-earned Awards for their achievements.

Elphinstone PhD scholarships

I want to remind colleagues of the £5M Elphinstone Scholarship scheme we launched last month.  The one hundred Scholarships - named in honour of our founder Bishop Elphinstone who died 500 years ago this year - are available to high-achieving students from anywhere in the world looking to begin a PhD programme here this coming autumn.  As a research-driven university, it is vital that we continue to increase our numbers of postgraduate research students and we hope this investment will make a significant difference.

PG Focus Fortnight

Last month saw our first Postgraduate Focus Fortnight, run jointly by SRAS and the Graduate Schools. This was aimed at final year students, with third year students and alumni also encouraged to attend a variety of events, raising awareness of postgraduate opportunities and highlighting the employability benefits to be gained from achieving a masters qualification. As I referred to above, promoting our PG offerings across the University is a very important priority, and I commend colleagues for the enthusiasm and effort that went into this programme of activity.

Aquatics Centre

I hope that many of you have now had the chance to try out the magnificent new Aquatics Centre. My sense is that people are hugely proud and impressed that we have this outstanding facility now sitting alongside the rest of the Sports Village, and making the University and Aberdeen home to sporting facilities to rival the best in the country. All ASV and University staff involved in the project are to be congratulated on what they have achieved.

Commonwealth ‘Game Changer’ Awards

Closely connected to the Aquatics Centre, I was delighted that the University won gold and bronze awards at the recent Game Changer awards. The awards were launched by Universities Scotland to recognise those in the education sector who were making a contribution to supporting the Commonwealth Games. The Sports Union’s Commonwealth Sports Tour won Gold for the work it has done in promoting sport to young schoolchildren and their knowledge of the Commonwealth, while the University’s Sport and Exercise Team’s free swimming lessons for staff and students initiative won Bronze. 

Granite City Challenge

Also on a sporting theme, it was good to see the University make up for the disappointment of losing the Boat Race by triumphing over RGU in the Granite City Challenge which is Britain’s biggest inter-varsity sporting event with teams competing in a variety of sports.

Referendum on Scottish Independence

The Referendum edges closer and academic colleagues continue to make some important contributions to the national debate on Scotland’s future. It is important that, as a university, we support, inform and facilitate public debate on this fundamental choice that Scotland’s people are faced with. To that end we have enjoyed hosting a number of relevant and extremely interesting debates at the May Festival and a further event held with the ESRC and Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce. In addition the Development Trust organised a very successful event in New York, at which Michael Keating spoke. We also recently welcomed the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee to campus, in recognition of our important role in Scotland's energy future whatever the outcome is in September. I was also interested to note that our students recently hosted a mock referendum.

I am also keen that we host meetings led by the proponents of both sides of the debate and that colleagues participate fully in them. Universities are safe places for difficult discussions and I believe we should do all we can to ensure that there can be an informed decision at the ballot box. It is, of course, a debate that can become impassioned from views which are strongly held. It is important therefore that where we do have debates within the University on this or indeed on other issues, we do so in a way that is respectful and accepting of the views of others.


I know that colleagues will be in the midst of a very busy period of marking and I am sure looking forward to the conclusion of the academic year and the happy occasions of the graduation ceremonies. I look to the ceremonies also as an opportunity to acknowledge not only the hard work of the students but the wonderful commitment of their lecturers and professors.


Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor