Principal's Update: October 2015

Principal's Update: October 2015

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

Global rankings rise

I want to thank all colleagues for their contribution to the news last week that we have risen six places to 172 in the latest Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings, increasing our score across all criteria. This is further evidence of our progress in an increasingly competitive global education environment. In the UK we were assessed as 29th and 4th in Scotland. A particularly welcome placing is 9th position in the UK for income from industry. This is very exciting, especially for the employability of our graduates, and it’s important that our School Strategic Plans build on this. It’s also very encouraging to be judged 14th in the UK for International Outlook, and suggests that our internationalisation strategy is really starting to pay dividends.

These results come just weeks after another positive showing for the University in the QS World University Rankings, at position 137, and with a rise one place to 23rd in the UK. Aberdeen’s ranking for Academic Reputation went up two places from 26th to 24th in the UK and on a worldwide basis we  increased our scores for Employer Reputation, Staff: Student Ratio, International Students and International Staff.  

All this is giving us a strong foundation to drive forward our new Strategic Plan. Printed copies of the full plan and pocket summaries will be distributed shortly across the organisation. I will be sending copies to our key influencers and stakeholders with a covering letter stressing the scale of our ambition and the important role played by their continued support and engagement.

Operational planning continues meanwhile, and I want to thank again all staff who attended the recent open meetings. These have been a brilliant opportunity for discussion on our opportunities and challenges and I look forward to more of these sessions in the coming months.

Court strategy day  

We were able last week to invest a whole day with our Court, reviewing in detail the strategic context within which the University operates. I presented the political context that we face, Jeremy Kilburn took Court members through our planning systems and processes, and Steve Heys presented on the ambitions of our new School of Medicine, Medical Sciences and Nutrition.

We updated Court members on the OneSource programme, and a demonstration of My Curriculum and MyTimetable was very well received, as was the news that over 12,000 students have now used these online tools to take ownership of their course programmes. Much effort went into introducing these systems and helping students to use them, and I want to thank again all those involved. I know that the team wishes in turn to thank all colleagues who have given feedback to date, and to remind others of the email to do this – which is (Subject Header FEEDBACK).

Our student officers gave an excellent presentation entitled ‘Not your average student’, encouraging all of us to acknowledge and celebrate the increasing diversity of our student community and to think about how we can meet the very differing needs of ambitious young people coming to our University from all circumstances and regions of the world. An important partnership with our students is the new programme of fee waivers, accommodation and support for living costs for students with refugee status who have come to the UK. The University will fund an initial four scholarships, two at UG and two at PG level, and our hope is that philanthropic support from our alumni and other donors will enable this programme to grow.  Peter McGeorge will be the initial contact on this.

City Deal ambitions

Our own strategy, while international in its ambition, will thrive best within a strong and sustainable region. We have been working for some months with our partners at Aberdeen City and Aberdeenshire Councils on detailed proposals for our £2.9 billion bid to the UK Treasury for investment into the North-east through the City Deal scheme. A key pillar of our joint ambition is the development of a high-value innovation agenda for the North-east, spanning both universities and industry, and focused on a multi-disciplinary innovation hub undertaking near-market, industry-led research across some of Scotland’s key sectors, namely oil and gas, renewable energy, food and drink, life sciences, and big data. This is an enormously exciting prospect and I look forward to sharing developments with our University community.

Meanwhile I’m delighted to see a new partnership bringing life to the former medical school accommodation in Marischal College, space which has been surplus to requirements since the Suttie Centre opened in 2009. ‘The Anatomy Rooms’ will now nurture creative arts through a new organisation, supported by a grant from the City and addressing a recognised local need for such a space, with support and mentoring.

Our local ‘town and gown’ links are close and supportive, and I was pleased to represent the University at the Rededication Service last Sunday for the memorial headstone in St Nicholas Churchyard to Dr William Guild, former Principal and first patron in 1633 of the Seven Incorporated Trades of Aberdeen. This followed a visit to Fraserburgh on Saturday to attend graduations at North East Scotland College, and share in the pride and achievement of young people and their families in north Aberdeenshire, many of whom will hopefully set their sights on university.  

Converge Challenge success

I’m absolutely delighted that our outstanding track record in commercialising clever ideas has again brought distinction in the prestigious national Converge Challenge competition. Elasmogen, led by Andrew Porter and Caroline Barelle, claimed second spot in the main competition, and EuroBiotix UK, the business idea of fourth year medical students James McIlroy and Matthew Bracchi, triumphed in the Social Enterprise Award category. Managing Information in Medical Services (MIME), developed by Alasdair Mort and Phillip Wilson also made it through to the final six of the competition. These successes follow the achievement in 2014 of students Chukwudi Onyia and Jonas Marcius of Next Stage Health and Wellbeing Education who jointly won the KickStart Social Enterprise Award. And in 2013 Madhu Nair, founder of Saccade Diagnostics, our spin-out which uses eye movement as a psychiatric diagnostic tool, won the coveted top prize in that year’s Converge Challenge.

THE awards shortlisting

Bringing sparkle to the short days of November are the annual THE awards, widely viewed as the Oscars of the UK’s HE sector. Being shortlisted in any category is a great achievement and we are in with a very good chance this year of bringing three awards to Aberdeen. The greenhouse gas calculator developed by Jon Hillier and colleagues in Biological Sciences is shortlisted for the Research Project of the Year, and also in the Outstanding Contribution to Innovation and Technology category. The Cool Farm tool is a great success story for the University, a major international industrial collaboration and a brilliant example of impact.  

We are also shortlisted in the Outstanding Support for Early Career Researchers category for EXPLORATHON, the European Researchers’ Night Scotland  which took place on Friday 25 September. Supported by the European Commission and led by the University’s Public Engagement with Research Unit in partnership with the Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Strathclyde, evaluation indicates that 2,500 people in Aberdeen attended events (likely to be over 7,000 across Scotland), 100 staff and students were involved from our University alone, and the twittersphere was buzzing with 1,400 tweets generating 2.6 million twitter impressions in the pan-Scotland social media campaign.

RSE awards reception

Last month an impressive number of our academic colleagues were honoured in the annual awards of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Eight of our awardees are pictured on the front cover of the autumn newsletter: Hazel Hutchison, Alexandra Lewis, Elizabeth Elliott, Helen Dooley, Amy Bryzgel, Aideen O’Leary, Heather Morgan and Wei Pang. Awards also went this year to Alasdair Mort for MIME, Caroline Barelle for Elasmogen, and Peter Duff in Law. You can see photos from the awards reception and read the full list of winners in the latest resource newsletter on this link

Iona Abbey education project

I was hugely privileged this week to see a presentation by David Smith, Katrina Foy and Aloyise Mulligan of a wonderful project they have undertaken to develop a game-based learning technology initiative ‘Tales of Iona’ to improve the understanding among school children of Iona’s place in our heritage.  It was an outstanding presentation of some exciting educational research and demonstrated once more the strengths we have both in research and is pedagogy across the university.

Head teachers’ dinner 

I was able to enthuse about the Iona project, and the University as a whole, when I met many of our local head teachers over dinner.  These are some of our most important stakeholders and it is always good to share the challenges we both face and discuss how best to smooth the transitions of our students between our two sectors. 

Sixth Century Forum 

I have been very pleased over the last few months to support the activities of the Sixth Century Forum.  I welcome this initiative and look forward to the fruits of its labour.  One initial suggestion, from Martin Barker in the School of Biological Sciences, was that we need to coordinate conversations leading to, potentially, interdisciplinary research.  In the medium term I see this being an activity of a proposed Institute of Advanced Studies, but in the short term I would welcome suggestions of areas of research to which we would potentially contribute and which would benefit from some round tables or sandpits.  I look forward to suggestions. 

Energy Law

I had a great meeting this week with the Energy Law team, led by John Paterson. We are privileged to have such a strong group of scholars with research and teaching activities across the globe, and covering the full range of energy issues from hydrocarbons through to wind. It was excellent to share in the enthusiasm of the team to continue to build Aberdeen’s reputation in this area.

Peace campaigner for Carnegie Lecture

One event I particularly want to draw to colleagues’ attention is the second Andrew Carnegie Lecture on 20 October. We are honoured to welcome Jerry White, Nobel Peace Laureate and anti-landmine campaigner. At the age of 20 Mr White lost his leg to a landmine explosion while hiking in northern Israel, and has dedicated his life to non-proliferation and building resilience in individuals and communities affected by violent conflict. The 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace was awarded to his organisation the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and his trip that year to Bosnia-Herzegovina with the late Princess Diana turned the spotlight on victims of landmines worldwide. I am very much looking forward to welcoming Mr White to Aberdeen and hearing him speak on the theme of Religion, Violence and Strategy: How to Stop Killing in God's Name, and I encourage colleagues to secure their place by booking here.

Winter is coming…

We’ve been reminded this week that autumn is on the advance, bringing ideal conditions for the unpleasant cold and other viruses which spread so easily in the workplace. I would like to stress to colleagues that should you feel unwell and have symptoms of an infection please do stay at home until you are well again. The wellbeing of all members of our community is an integral part of our developing strategy for Health, Safety and Wellbeing, and I look forward to sharing our new strategy in the coming weeks.

And finally, for an example of wonderful inspiration, dedication and sheer grit, we need look no further than the fantastic achievement of our student Emma Lister, who swam the English Channel, in support of a health issue very dear to her family. Emma is featured on the home page of our website and this short video shows the challenge she was up against and overcame in a day I’m sure she’ll remember all her life. Well done Emma – the University is very proud of you!


Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor



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