Principal's Update: May 2015

The latest update for staff from Professor Sir Ian Diamond


As we approach the end of the academic and financial year, we are using the opportunity of our Strategic Plan discussions – and the reality of a challenging financial climate – to take stock of where we are as an organisation, where we want to be, and how we can get there.

For the Scottish, UK, and international higher education sector we know that competition is increasing, and that we need to be more focused in our strategic choices if we are to maintain and grow our position. In our new Strategic Plan we have identified People, Teaching and Learning, and Research as our three big headings. We are now in the process of defining what we need to do to strengthen Teaching and Learning, and Research, and enhance our position as a dynamic, stimulating and caring community for staff and students. This includes determining measures of success and targets.  We will complete this exercise in the next few months and will continue to involve staff and students in these discussions.

Our objectives will remain as aspirations however unless we secure the financial sustainability to pay our rising costs as an employer, react to future pressures and developments outwith our control, and have the ability to invest. This will be challenging against a background of constraints on the public purse, and the need to compete with universities across the world who are making large investments in attracting a discerning and mobile student community.

Colleagues will know that we are currently looking across the whole spectrum of our operation to identify how we can achieve this financial sustainability. We need to review current activity and plans to ensure that they dovetail with the direction and ambition in our  Strategic Plan. We also need to search for further efficiencies in the way that we run our university. And, thirdly, we must reduce staff costs which are already above the sector average and set to grow with increases to employer contributions to USS pension and national insurance.

Reducing the number of our staff is never easy, and we recognise that this is a source of concern in the staff and student community.  Our efforts in managing this situation are directed at ensuring that we maintain the quality of our student experience at Aberdeen.  Achieving the goals we have agreed in our Strategic Plan will ultimately contribute further to the ‘Aberdeen experience’ for staff and students, and the value of an Aberdeen degree.


We have now signed the agreement to formalise our partnership in Korea to create our first overseas campus.  I want to thank our team who built an impressive business case and solid relationships that augur well for the success of this venture. This is a great opportunity for us to gain a foothold in a region of significant  potential, through a campus in the Gwangyang Free Economic Zone (GFEZ) in Hadong District in South Korea.  Our new campus is a collaborative venture with KOSORI (Korea Shipbuilding & Offshore Research Institute) at Pusan National University, the Korean government and local authorities. The campus, due to open in September 2016,  will be a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Aberdeen in Korea, delivering University of Aberdeen postgraduate programmes and CPD courses in offshore-related disciplines, and carrying out academic research.

Meanwhile we continue to explore opportunities in transnational education based on work here in our School of Education to develop an International Postgraduate Diploma in Education.   Following a concentrated due diligence exercise we have decided not to pursue the opportunity we had been evaluating around medicine in Sri Lanka.

Our international agents across the globe are important partners in our recruitment activity, and we recently hosted on campus 21 representatives from around the world. Delegates to the two-day conference came from China, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, India, Mexico, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Malaysia. In addition to a whistle-stop tour of the University and its facilities, delegates met with colleagues from all three Colleges and professional services and enjoyed visits to Dunnottar Castle and Glengarioch Distillery. It was a pleasure to welcome such enthusiastic partners and credit goes to all the team here who made the visit such a success.

Applicant Days

The recent Applicant Days proved the most popular yet, inviting applicants holding an unconditional or conditional offer to experience life as a student here, through exploring the campus, meeting academics on their chosen course, visiting their chosen department/school and talking to current students. 

519 applicants and 926 parents/guardians attended the Science and Engineering Applicant Day, and attendance at the Arts & Social Sciences Applicant Day was up 7% this year, with 421 applicants and their guests making a total of 835 people keen to find out about studying at the University, including the structure and flexibility of the MA degree.


Two important new buildings are now nearing completion. The new nursery for the children of staff and students will welcome its first occupants at the start of the autumn term. Some of you will be aware that this is a ‘first’ for us in several ways, as one of very few buildings in Scotland designed using the Passivhaus style, and is a wonderful opportunity to showcase our commitment to sustainable, low carbon buildings. We expect this to attract attention from many sectors in this region and beyond in the coming months.

We continue to explore with the Crown Estate and RGU the feasibility of a joint renewable energy project to produce enough energy to significantly offset the electricity use of the two universities – delivering long-term economic and environmental benefits and substantial  carbon saving. This is a long-term project that remains at an early stage, and I will update colleagues with developments.

On the theme of environmental performance, the Rowett building at Foresterhill has secured a BREEAM rating of ‘outstanding’ for its sustainable engineering features. This new building is important in confirming our leadership in nutrition research, and the Human Nutrition Unit will be the best in the UK. Rowett scientists continue to grow the profile of their work and expertise at international summits, on prime time TV, at the forthcoming May Festival, and at huge public events such as the recent Edinburgh International Science Festival where their colourful  ‘discobreads’ proved a great hit in demonstrating the potential of reformulating foods for health.

University of Aberdeen Development Trust

The Development Trust plays a huge role in securing the means to make the student experience at Aberdeen all the more special. The Trust’s Annual Report is now available, and recognises and thanks our generous supporters who have enabled the Trust to distribute £5.2m to the University during the last financial year.  The document features articles about a number of our benefactors including our late rector Dr Maitland Mackie and his wife Dr Halldis Mackie, and I commend it to you, on this link

Recent disbursements from the Trust have included the ‘Come and Try Commonwealth Games Sports Sessions’ at Aberdeen Sports Village, the ‘Northern Picts: Archaeology of Fortriu’ project, a number of Hotstarts laboratory placements for Medicine and Biomedical undergraduates and a PhD Divinity student who has the wonderful opportunity to undertake a placement at Yale in the autumn.


As always our students and staff have been distinguishing themselves in many fields, and I can mention here only a few:

Third-year student Allan Mcleod won the Engineering Leadership Advanced Award of the Royal Academy of Engineering. This is a prestigious national award, and comes with £5,000 for personal development over three years and mentoring by industry professionals. This is a tremendous achievement and I want to add my personal congratulations to Allan.

Another engineering student, Michael Ferguson, won the 800 metres at the Scottish Universities Track event this spring, having won the Scottish Universities’ Cross Country back in December. And subsea engineering postgraduate Anthimos Pavlidis  represented Scotland in the Celtic Nations swimming tournament in Glasgow. This is a championship between England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland in a variety of sports, and only two swimmers were selected (from Aberdeen and RGU) to represent Scotland.

As we reached the deadline for applications to this year’s Elphinstone PhD Scholarship programme, the achievement of an existing Elphinstone scholar reinforced the value of attracting outstanding PhD candidates through this scheme. Namibian-born Johanna Amunjela featured in Scottish and African media for her research, supervised by Dr Steve Tucker in Pharmacology, on identifying specific proteins which appear to directly affect the development and spread of cancer.

I am delighted that Professor Neil Gow who heads up the Aberdeen Fungal Group has been recognised for his exceptional contribution to the medical sciences by being elected as a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences and  that Professor Marcel Jaspars has been made Fellow of The Royal Society of Edinburgh, in recognition of his work in the discovery of new pharmaceuticals and enzymes from marine biodiversity.

And I also congratulate Professor Russell Howe in Chemistry on securing a highly sought-after British Council Newton Award to host a conference in conjunction with Universitas Indonesia in Jakarta next year, the aim of which will be to grow long-term collaborations.

It’s always rewarding to read about the influence our academic colleagues have had on thinking in so many fields of knowledge. We had an excellent example recently with Professor Celso Grebogi quoted in Quanta, the major US science magazine in a feature on Strange Nonchaotic Stars for his work with colleagues at the University of Maryland back in 1984  which identified strange nonchaotic attractors for the very first time. The story names the University of Aberdeen as the location in which this important work on chaos theory, and its many applications in our everyday lives, is being taken forward.

And finally…

We will be showcasing more University talent than ever before at this year’s May Festival this coming weekend. There are still tickets left for several events so I encourage colleagues who have not yet booked to do so now, taking advantage of the staff discount, on

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor


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