Principal's Update: August 2015

Principal's Update: August 2015

Latest update for staff from Professor Sir Ian Diamond.


As the media spotlight falls on higher education following the release of Higher and A-level results, the debate this year included, understandably, the value of a university degree in today’s changing labour market.

It’s a question we addressed a few years ago when our curriculum reform project brought institutional focus to the entire learning and development role of a university, and integrated the development of graduate attributes and other advantages for employability into our teaching and co-curricular programmes. It’s gratifying that we were named recently as one of the top 10 universities in the UK for graduate employability by The Daily Telegraph. This league table was based on the proportion of 2013/14 graduates entering employment or further study within six months, and our position is testament to the quality of our students and their learning, our teaching staff, careers team, and our close relationships with employers across a wide range of business and industry.

Yet, it is equally important to recognise that a degree is not simply a ‘passport’ to employment. An Aberdeen education is much more than that, offering a real base from which our graduates can proceed on to the next stage of their lives. We are reminded frequently by our alumni and others how special the Aberdeen experience was for them and the impact it has had, and continues to have, on their lives.

Recent developments, including our investment in cutting edge IT systems to improve our student experience and to run our business affairs more efficiently, bring further potential to create something  unique on our campuses. I want to thank the team who have worked tirelessly over recent months to make MyCurriculum and MyTimetable breakthroughs for new and returning students in managing their own course choices and timetables. The demonstration I attended was really exciting, and I’m delighted to hear that by this morning almost 4,000 students had selected their courses online, and 2,000 have already used MyTimetable.

We have just concluded another busy admissions cycle, including a successful RUK campaign. I look forward to confirming our student numbers in a few weeks when we welcome our new students onto campus. Before that we have our Open Day tomorrow, and I will be joining colleagues in welcoming huge numbers of prospective students and their families onto campus, and conveying to them the enthusiasm I know we all feel for our University and why an ambitious student should make us their number-one choice.

Important as our programmes, facilities and support are,  we know that it is the quality and commitment of all our people, whatever role they have at Aberdeen, that makes the difference. We all have a role to play in creating the community of excellence and opportunity to which thousands of ambitious new students are now preparing to journey, from all corners of the globe, entrusting us with their dreams.

Our current initiatives to generate savings, adjust our structures and achieve efficiencies are all geared to getting ourselves in the best possible shape and position to take our university and its student experience to a new level. There is no room for complacency or inaction, facing, as we do, intense competition from traditional rivals and newcomers, But we have a very strong base to build on. As you know, the Strategic Plan will shape our priorities, and we are now at the stage of developing School Plans that will have real local ownership of academic and strategic developments. I look forward, with my senior management team, to discussing these with colleagues, and considering how best we build on our areas of strength and how we seek out and exploit new strategic opportunities. There is a series of opportunities for these discussions next month at open meetings to which I am delighted to invite all staff. Dates, times and venues are given at the end of this Update.

National Student Survey (NSS)

Detailed analysis of the complex datasets delivered through the recently-published NSSis stillongoing, but we can see already that our performance has improved over last year. Colleagues are now working on data at School level and this will be disseminated to colleagues when available. We can see that new initiatives around assessment and feedback have had a positive impact on levels of student satisfaction in terms of quality and speed, and that our investment in new buildings and learning and IT resources has been well received by students. I want to thank all colleagues who encouraged our students to take part and improve our response rate on previous years.

Living Wage Employer

I am delighted to share with colleagues the exciting news that the University is now an accredited Living Wage Employer. This recognises the commitment we have demonstrated since 2013 in paying all directly employed staff at least the level of the Living Wage, and, importantly, our stipulation that all contractors engaged by the University are also committed to honouring the living wage for their own staff working on University premises.  The Living Wage is currently £7.85 per hour and is reviewed annually with a new rate taking effect from November of each year.  I want to thank colleagues who have worked with our student representatives and campus trade unions to achieve this recognition of our commitment to our staff community and to paying a living wage. This is completely in line with the underpinning commitment in our Strategic Plan that our people are at the heart of our shared vision for this University.

News of recent research

I am always delighted to hear of the efforts and considerable achievements of colleagues, and want to mention two examples of prodigious activity which is growing already acknowledged areas of strength. First I was privileged to talk with a number of colleagues in English recently. This has been another great year for the WORD Centre for Creative Writing, where the four core members have all published books in 2015 and all with excellent reviews; Alan Spence’s new play has been, rightly, praised highly and four staff in English have published monographs. I am very conscious of the considerable effort that goes into producing monographs such as these and we should all be proud of these achievements.

I was also pleased to receive the Geosciences newsletter. This gives a long list of publications emanating from our colleagues in Geosciences, covering a wide range of topics. Colleagues have also secured a healthy tally of successful funding applications, frequent contributions to international conferences and invitations to speak to prestigious professional groups and leading multinational companies.  All in all, evidence of thriving academic enterprise.

International developments

Our international links and partnerships continue to grow, bringing opportunities for staff and students as we continue to internationalise the University in every sense. It was a pleasure to welcome, in July, Charles Hay, the UK’s ambassador to Korea, and to update him on our exciting plans for our first overseas campus. We will be showcasing this important development for the University, and the industry, at this year’s Offshore Europe exhibition.

Jeremy Kilburn led a delegation to Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, to follow up the Memorandum of Understanding we signed in July. We want to explore the development of joint degrees and research partnerships across a broad range of disciplines including energy, medicine and literature, and to facilitate student and staff exchanges and joint professional training opportunities for staff.

The agreement Seth Kunin signed this summer to explore collaboration with Harbin Engineering University (HEU) in China – witnessed by Scotland’s First Minister - could result in HEU students entering higher level teaching programmes at Aberdeen, co-operation in civil engineering programmes, and collaborative applications for contracts in research and consultancy.

We also hosted a delegation from Indonesia’s oil and gas regulator, SKK MIGAS, to discuss plans for our colleagues to deliver training to SKK MIGAS staff across our oil and gas related disciplines, as a precursor to the signing of an MoU in Jakarta later this year. Emre Usenmez in our Law School must take credit for this visit, and I look forward to hearing more about this exciting project later this year.

Similarly Adam Price in Biological Sciences deserves mention for bringing a delegation from Assam Agricultural University to Aberdeen to explore five areas of common interest and potential academic and research links. I look forward to our colleagues making a return visit to this area of north-east India in February 2016, extending a collaboration begun in 2008 and an excellent example of Aberdeen research impacting on a critical world issue to feed a growing global population. 

I also find it hugely energising to see our research students sharing their ideas and work and making new friends with their counterparts from across the world. This summer we were delighted to welcome the annual International Student Research Forum, now in its tenth year, and I was privileged to make the opening address. Research students from China, Australia, USA and Denmark joined PhD students from our College of Life Sciences and Medicine to share their research and make new professional links.


Staff will be aware of changes in the leadership of the College of Life Sciences and Medicine, and I want to add my personal thanks to Mike Greaves for all that he has done for the University and to wish him best wishes for his retirement. I welcome Phil Hannaford and Steve Heys to their new roles as, respectively, Head of College and Head of the new combined School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition, which has huge potential as a centre of excellence in teaching and research. I also want to thank David Reid for his contribution in a number of roles as he retires from his post as Head of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. Fred Stevenson-Robb, Director of Research and Innovation, is also retiring having given over 30 years’ service and been instrumental in supporting academic staff and successfully commercialising research.

I want particularly to commend colleagues at the Dental School for the work they have done over the past year, and look forward to the forthcoming report from the General Dental Council. I thank Sarah Duffy for leading the team through a challenging period, and welcome our new director Richard Ibbetson who will take the Dental School forward as a hub of professional excellence for the dental profession in north Scotland.

I am delighted also to welcome Naveed Qamar who has joined us in the new role of Director of Health, Safety and Wellbeing and will report to me. Naveed was formerly Group Safety Director at First Group Plc, and brings a wealth of experience gained across the public sector and industry.

It was great to hear of the triumph of colleagues, students and partner organisations in scooping the national CUBO Awards in the Campaign of the Year category for the CluedUp student safety campaign led by the Directorate of Student Life, and the Excellence in Student Sport Experience category, in which our Sport and Exercise Team - working in partnership with the student Sports Union and Aberdeen Sports Village – beat off some of the best sporting universities in the UK with their ‘nonā€competitive’ exercise opportunities to help students tackle the pressures of student life by boosting wellbeing. This was a brilliant partnership with our students, and I’m looking forward to working with the new team of sabbatical officers. I’m pleased that Megan Burgoyne was able to attend BUCS annual conference this summer, at which I was privileged to speak.

It was a joy to see not only Aberdeen Sports Village hosting the Scottish National Athletics Championships this summer, but also our own University athletes enjoying  such success. Zoey Clark, chemical engineering student who holds the John Robertson Sports Scholarship, won Gold in the woman’s 400m, and Kelsey Stewart, who starts at the University this term, picked up Bronze in the same event. Fellow UoA athlete Stephen Dunlop won Bronze in the Men’s 100m, with Michael Ferguson  finishing fourth in the Men’s 800m. Both are University of Aberdeen Development Trust Sport Bursars. Earlier this summer Zoey won gold with Great Britain & Northern Ireland at the Euro Under-23 athletics championship in the 4 x 400m relays -  a fantastic achievement.

We enjoy a warm and productive partnership with the MacRobert Trust, and welcome Rear Admiral Chris Hockley as the new head of the Trust . We are keen that newcomers in our community are aware of how our MacRobert Building received its name. A brand new plaque will be arriving soon, recognising the Trust’s generosity towards the University, and including a QR code linking to a webpage on the history of our links to the Trust,  including the delightful memorial garden near Wrights and Coopers Place and the Trust’s generous gifts to the Sir Duncan Rice Library.

Speaking of the Library, I want to thank Diane Bruxvoort and her library team – and Estates and IT colleagues - who pulled together so magnificently following last week’s power outage to find other ways to provide library services for staff and students. It’s good news that we are back up and running in time for Open Day and our students returning to campus.

I’ve been struck by how impressive the Cruickshank Gardens have looked over a rather challenging summer. The passion and commitment of Mark Paterson and his team, including the student and local resident volunteers, is very evident. Enjoyment and use of the Gardens continues to grow. This summer we have had research plots showcasing experimental work of  UG, PG, and academic colleagues, and visitors through the gates have come not only from Scotland but England, America, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Turkey and Romania.

On the theme of outdoors I want to pass my very best wishes for a speedy recovery to our groundsman Michael Crombie, who suffered a fall at Foresterhill, and now, I am pleased to hear, is back at home.

I also want to mention colleagues in Music. Our composers Phillip Cooke and Paul Mealor are both featured on ‘The Eternal Ecstasy’, a new CD recorded by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, including a newly-commissioned work from Dr Cooke, as well as works by Morten Lauridsen, James MacMillan and David Bednall. Gemma McGregor, who is studying for a PhD in composition with Paul and Phillip will have her composition 'Egilsay Kirk'  performed by the BBC Singers as part of Choir & Organ Magazine’s choral composition  workshop in London in September. My wife, Jane, was privileged to attend a wonderful talk by Paul Mealor on Music and Faith, at the three Choirs Festival in Hereford Cathedral this summer. Paul will be speaking on Music and Remembrance in Cardiff as part of the BBC Radio 4 coverage of this November’s Day of Remembrance. Another highlight this autumn will be our Chamber Choir performing at the London Scottish lunch in November at The Savoy with the Princess Royal in attendance. The London Scottish rugby club has committed to raising at least £15,000 for our Spinal Cord Injury research team at Foresterhill plus 50% of additional money raised at the event if it tops £75,000. The Choir will sing in London twice that week as they will also sing at our annual London Carol Service.

And finally, it had to happen!  BBC Songs of Praise comes to St Machar Cathedral for its Christmas Eve edition and we hope many in our community will want lend their voices to what is sure to be a loud, proud, and happy event and a wonderful showcase for the University and our lovely campus. Details of how to apply will be circulated in the next couple of weeks. And, it seems, Christmas jumpers are welcomed. 

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor 

Invitation to open meetings for all staff

All staff are invited to open meetings to hear from Principal and senior management colleagues about the challenges and opportunities ahead for the University, and ask questions. There is no need to book.

King’s College:

  • Friday 11 September, 12.00 to 1.00pm – Regent Lecture Theatre (professional services)
  • Tuesday 15 September, 1.00 to 2.00pm – Fraser Noble Lecture Theatre 3 (academic)


  • Friday 18 September, 1.00 to 2.00pm – Med-Chi Hall (professional services)
  • Tuesday 22 September, 1.30 to 2.30pm – Med-Chi Hall (academic)