Principal's update - November 2015

Principal's update - November 2015


The autumn term is flying by faster than the leaves falling from the trees outside my office. This week we celebrate our winter graduations and as always I am looking forward to seeing our graduates and their families enjoying this very special day which they will remember all their lives. In so doing they will certainly remember the encouragement and hard work by so many of our colleagues that has enabled them to get to this happy day.

Meanwhile very different conversations are taking place north and south of the border with respect to the future of higher education in the UK.

In Westminster, the UK government released its Green Paper on Higher Education.  This proposes some changes to the architecture of English Higher Education with the HEFCE and the Office of Fair Access amalgamating into a new Office for Students; a largely metrics based Teaching Excellence Framework linked to the ability to raise the level of fees by RPI; a proposed move of the REF to the Research Councils and a new metrics based mid-REF review to identify emerging areas of research; and the removal of English institutions from FoI.

We await the results of the consultation of the Green Paper, and will be working through - with other Scottish universities - the implications for us.  A key input on research to the Green Paper will be the report of the Review of Research Councils by Sir Paul Nurse, expected before the Chancellor makes his autumn statement on Wednesday.

All these will lead into the discussions about the Scottish Government’s budget for Higher Education which will continue alongside the discussions on the Higher Education Governance Bill.   All of this makes it a fluid time for higher education policy but, for us, the key thing will be to continue to deliver the very high quality education and research for which we are rightly praised.

One conversation which is certainly not getting enough attention is the contribution Scotland’s universities can make to growing the economy. Last year Rob Woodward, CEO of the STV Group and I agreed to co-chair a new Growing Value Scotland (GVS) Task Force, with the aim of exploring ways to connect the natural inventiveness of universities with the innovation needs of companies and the Scottish economy.  Our work built on a UK-wide inquiry undertaken by the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB) into fostering greater business/industry and university collaboration in future.

Our interim report Growing Value: Business – University Collaboration for the 21st Century has just been published. One of our key findings is that whilst university-based research spend in Scotland is above the UK average as a percentage of GDP, spending by business in this area lags considerably behind the majority of the UK. In fact only 3% of the total investment in research and development across the UK is derived from businesses in Scotland and we clearly need to understand why this is the case, and how Scotland’s industrial base can undertake more R&D. The full report is available on the GVS webpage.

This University is acknowledged for the high impact of its research and our success in commercialising clever ideas; building on this strength is fundamental in our new Strategic Plan. Printed copies are now being distributed across our campuses, and a digital version with videos is now on our website here. In addition to the year of internal conversations in our community, we also benefited from contributions made by our partners and stakeholders, and I shall be writing to them this week to stress the value and importance of their continuing engagement in taking our ambitions forward.

Internally many of our most important discussions take place at meetings of Senate, as our main academic body. As part of our recent Senate Effectiveness Review, we engaged with staff and students from across the University to find out how we could enhance the operation of Senate, and one of the outcomes was the Senate Digest, a concise overview for staff following each Senate meeting, the first of which headlined the weekly StaffNet ezine. I enjoy the breadth of discussion at these meetings, and I hope that the Digest will be helpful to all the community in following these discussions.

Click here to read the Principal’s update in full, with updates on:

  • Vice-Principal portfolios
  • Visitors on campus
  • Chinese conversations
  • Ideas put forward for Sixth Century Forum
  • Leadership Academy
  • International recognition for colleagues
  • And more

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