Principal's Update: August 2014

Principal's Update: August 2014

The latest Update for staff from Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

Dear colleagues

I hope that many of you have been able to make the most of the good weather this month to recharge batteries and enjoy time with family and friends.  The sun that shone on our Graduations has certainly encouraged a celebratory feel for summer here on campus and across Scotland.

Celebrating our sporting family

This week’s Commonwealth Games have been an excellent reminder of the power of sport in promoting dialogue and partnership, well evidenced by the international outlook of our region and country and the warmth of the welcome for the Commonwealth community at Glasgow 2014.  

Our alumnus, honorary graduate, and brilliant ambassador for the University and for sport, Neil Fachie, led the gold rush with two top spots on the podium in the para-cycling, while alumni Neil Stirton (shooting), Ross Houston (marathon) and Niall Cameron (table tennis) also turned in great performances. We wish student Zoey Clark all the best when she competes in the ladies 4x400m relay on Friday and Saturday (1/2 August). These and other local elite athletes – including gold medal winner Hannah Miley – use our University’s ASV and Aquatics facilities as part of their training schedule, and their success is a great endorsement of our strategic investment in world-class sports facilities for our students, staff and local community.

Showcasing HE for the Commonwealth

Learning, research, and the outstanding contribution of Scotland’s universities were very much on show for the international community gathered in Glasgow. I had the privilege of chairing an event to showcase the quality and achievements of Scotland’s higher education sector to the countries of the Commonwealth.  Connecting with the Commonwealth was hosted by Universities Scotland and Scottish Enterprise as part of the Scotland House business-to-business programme of Glasgow 2014.

Diplomats and dignitaries from over 16 Commonwealth countries included the President of Mauritius and Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP.  This proved a great opportunity to reinforce the reputation of Scotland’s universities, and especially for research which reaches every corner of the globe. It is worth noting that every one of the country’s higher education institutions undertakes some research of world-leading quality, and with only 0.1 per cent of the world’s population Scotland produces 1.8 per cent of the world’s citations.

Encouraging sharing and learning in Energy and Equity

A second event, on the eve of the opening ceremony, also took advantage of the high-level delegations in Glasgow for the Games to focus on a particular area of challenge - that of Energy, Equity and Development. The one-day conference was organised by our Centre for Sustainable International Development led by Dr Hilary Homans, in partnership with the Glasgow-based African Forum Scotland.

Government officials from African Commonwealth nations and Scotland, senior representatives of international energy companies active in sub-Saharan Africa, academic experts, and development partners exchanged ideas and good practice in achieving equal access to energy for all communities. Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs in the Scottish Government, gave the opening address, and the keynote speaker was Dr Kandeh Yumkella, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General who travelled from Vienna to brief delegates prior to the formal European launch of the United Nations Sustainable Energy for All (SE4All) initiative.

Archaeologists enthralled by beauty and history of King’s

Professor Jane Geddes led the hosting on campus of the six-day annual conference of the British Archaeological Association. For the last 40 years the society has descended annually on a cathedral city to explore its medieval heritage, in terms of art, architecture and archaeology.

This year 90 delegates enjoyed basking in stunning weather while exploring King's Chapel, St Machar's, St Nicholas' and the medieval revival churches of Ninian Comper. In addition to colourful papers recreating the lost medieval wealth of this area, delegates experienced bell ringing, bagpipes and Benedictine monastic vespers, together with a baronial feast at Fyvie Castle. Feedback confirms that participants were delighted by the beauty, convenience and antiquity of the University. This is a fine testimonial to the very extensive and professional team who helped to co-ordinate all aspects of the event.

Society for French Studies Conference

We were also delighted to host this year’s Society for French Studies Conference in July. The Society for French Studies is the leading learned association for French Studies in the UK and Ireland, and hosts an annual conference at different institutions around the country. This year’s event was attended by over 100 delegates from across the globe and we were delighted to welcome delegates including the French Consul from Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, and Dr Catherine Robert, HE attaché at the French Embassy in London who was also able to take the opportunity to meet with our Vice-Principals and senior researchers engaged in projects and collaborations with French academics and universities.

French studies has a history at Aberdeen almost as long as the University itself. French is specifically mentioned in the second foundation charter of 1514 as the language in which students are permitted to speak with each other, as an alternative to Latin – an importance probably linked to the fact that Bishop Elphinstone had studied at the University of Paris. French has officially been part of our curriculum since 1893, with the chair of French established in 1926.

Sharing good practice in medical statistics

During July, Dr Shona Fielding and our Medical Statistics Team had the privilege of hosting Burwalls: Annual Meeting for Teachers of Medical Statistics. The aim of this event is to encourage sharing of ideas among those responsible for teaching statistics (and evidence-based medicine) to medical students and other health professionals. The programme was designed to share knowledge, ideas and suggestions for future practice, with a keynote presentation from Professor Mike Campbell of the University of Sheffield who spoke on how to survive as a statistician in medicine and health research. Feedback from participants was extremely positive.

All these events are tremendously important in showcasing our strength, profile and organisational skills to important strategic academic communities, and I congratulate all involved

Hosting international talent on campus

The international theme has been well reflected here on campus and across our region with our partnership in the Aberdeen International Youth Festival. This year’s packed programme of diverse and astonishing talent got off to a brilliant launch in Elphinstone Hall last week, wowing an influential audience with performances from Jordan, the US, and from across Scotland the Robbie Burns group of extraordinary young musicians and actors explored the life and work of Scotland’s famous Bard. As one visitor put it to me: “The campus is really buzzing!”

Attracting the Gifted and Talented

On the subject of talent, in July we welcomed 17 students from across the UK to participate in the University’s first ever Gifted and Talented Residential Programme. This is a ‘first’ in Scotland, and aims to help increase the number of RUK students applying and studying at Aberdeen, as well as increasing the quality of applicants. The programme targets the most able RUK students (AAB+) using existing relationships with teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Students who successfully complete the programme become eligible for an unconditional offer from the University of Aberdeen (excluding medicine, law, engineering and education) and will also be offered direct entry to second year pending satisfactory results.

This first cohort undertook bespoke programmes in all three colleges within the University, challenging their ability and giving a flavour of what it is like to be a student at Aberdeen. The programmes consisted of three days of presentations, workshops, student discussion and social experience, plus a formal dinner. There are no similar programmes available in Scottish universities. Ours is unique in that it offers a residential programme to final stage students at a university which is outwith their immediate geographical area.

Raising our global profile

Our internationalisation activity is developing over the summer, under the leadership of Vice-Principal Professor Seth Kunin. We are committed to embedding a culture of internationalisation across all our activities and in so doing enhance our reputation as a global university.  

This clearly involves exploring and evaluating options for strategic partnerships with regions and organisations, especially in subjects where we have particular strength and leadership. Two options for which we have commissioned specialist market research over the summer are an opportunity to provide graduate education as part of a centre for offshore and energy-related research and education in South Korea, and to provide medical education through a partnership in Sri Lanka. More work will be done over the coming months to evaluate these opportunities and I will be able to update colleagues in due course.

Professor George McNicol

We were saddened to learn this week of the death of former Principal, Professor George McNicol.

Professor McNicol was an eminent professor of medicine who served as Principal from 1981-1991, following a successful career at the University of Leeds. As Principal, Professor McNicol was at the helm of the University during challenging times for the higher education sector, and the UK as a whole. His work in steering the organisation through those challenging times undoubtedly helped lay the foundation for the success and reputation of the University today. Our thoughts are with his family at this sad time. 

Visits to Professional Services

As signalled in my last Update I am taking the opportunity over the summer to spend time meeting and talking with our Professional Services teams about the opportunities and challenges we face in driving forward our agenda for enhancing all aspects of our student experience. These discussions are progressing very well and I have valued and enjoyed opportunities to engage in dialogue on everything from the Scottish Referendum to HE league tables and the development of online courses.

Keeping our data secure

I want to close with a reminder of the responsibility we all share to protect University data, and to urge all colleagues to take advantage of new guidance from our IT Services.

We now have a a series of short, tailored slideshows to help raise awareness of information security threats at the University and the part we all play in helping to keep our data and systems safe. Each self-paced slideshow tackles a different theme and offers guidance on best practice for email, mobile devices, passwords, anti-virus software, and more.

Log in to myAberdeen at and follow the link to IT Security Awareness in the My Organisations box. In addition to the slideshows, you will find a quick guide on How to spot Phishing Scams. I all encourage all staff to download a copy now and keep it handy to help identify email scams as soon as they arrive in your inbox.

And finally I hope you all enjoy the remainder of the summer.

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor