Principal's Update: December 2014

Principal's Update: December 2014

The latest update for staff from Professor Sir Ian Diamond.

Firstly I want to reiterate my delight at the appointment of Professor Stephen Logan as the new Chair of NHS Grampian. I believe this is an excellent appointment, and want to wish Steve every success in his new challenge, and to say how much I look forward to working together on our continuing and vital partnership with our regional NHS.

December meeting of Court

A number of significant items for the future of the University were considered by Court when it held its final meeting of 2014 last week. In addition to receiving an update on the progress of the consultation sessions we have been running for the development of our Strategic Plan, Court approved a revised capital plan and strategy for student accommodation. The strategy has been revised to take into account the increasing demand for student accommodation over the short and longer term, driven both by our own targets for growth in international student numbers and changing local rental market conditions. The approval by Court allows us to now develop proposals to build a new hall of residence at Hillhead and to progress another development on the Dunbar site which is focussed on accommodation for postgraduates or students with families. The relatively high cost of property is an issue for staff as well as students and our capital plan also includes new proposals to increase the amount of affordable housing available to early career staff.

I was also delighted to receive Court approval for the development of a University of Aberdeen campus in Hadong, South Korea.  This is a hugely exciting initiative which will be the University’s first campus overseas and will deliver postgraduate programmes and CPD courses in offshore-related disciplines. The establishment of the campus is being supported by the Korean Ship and Offshore Research Institute, the Gwangyang Bay Area Free Economic Zone, Hadong District and Gyeonsangnam Prefecture. It will provide the University with access to major new research facilities in engineering, opening up exciting new opportunities in research as well as in teaching. This represents a major step forward in the internationalisation of our activities and in raising the University’s profile in a key region of the world. The project will now progress through the necessary formal approval process required by the South Korean Government and our funding partners, with the aim of opening in September 2016. We will share more details of this exciting project with colleagues as it progresses.

Strategic Plan

Our discussions continue and I have enjoyed exchanging views with colleagues in both academic and professional services, and in the New Year we will be engaging with our many stakeholders on our thoughts to date. We have earmarked our next meeting of UMG in January to take stock and plan out the next phase of this process. The publication this week of our REF14 assessment will also help inform our Plan as we move forward in an increasingly competitive environment.

RCUK awards

RCUK have recently published success rates at institutional level for the financial year 2013/14 and there are two elements of special good news for us. While the overall value of RCUK awards across the sector has decreased by 20.7%, our overall value of RCUK awards has risen by 6.9% - so we are bucking the trend. Also, while the average value of RCUK award has fallen by £50k, our average value of RCUK award has risen by £62k, again significantly against the trend. This is very encouraging, though we cannot ever be complacent, given the competitive landscape highlighted above. 

New energy building

Our announcement that we are to go ahead with a new energy building is creating a lot of interest from our various stakeholders, and this will help in shaping the project in these early days. We have now embarked on the formal consultation process prior to seeking planning consent and our team have met over recent weeks with the local community councils and groups, and hosted a public meeting at The Hub with another to follow in January.

Enterprise Campus

Colleagues will recall that the University was ranked  6th in the UK in last year’s Praxis Unico survey for its success in commercialising research through forming spin-out companies. This month we have had welcome news of significant investment in spin-outs which will bring our research closer to benefiting those in need.  SIRAKOSS has secured £3.1m from a syndicate of investors to take forward work on synthetic bone grafts which can be used in trauma, spinal and dental surgery, and a new drug discovered by our Kosterlitz team to treat the common and painful condition of rheumatoid arthritis will be tested on patients next year thanks to a new R&D alliance and global option and licence agreement between Modern Biosciences plc (to whom our spin-out OsteoRx is licensed) and Janssen Biotech, Inc. We were also awarded £0.6m of the Wellcome ISSF Award Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) This is very encouraging and will support a range of activities to build our Wellcome and translational portfolio. 

We have a great tradition in drug discovery, and Marischal College has been highlighted by the British Pharmacological Society in Putting UK Pharmacology on the Map 2014 for the work of Hans Kosterlitz and John Hughes in isolating the first brain endorphins, and more recently for work led by  Roger Pertwee in discovering the first naturally-occurring cannabinoid, which paved the way for pioneering work in cannabinoid-based medicines. Professor Pertwee has also just been recognised by Thomson Reuters as being one of the few scientists in the world to be in the top 1% in terms of being cited by other researchers in the published literature. This is a tremendous accolade.

In addition to building on this great heritage through our research this coming year we will also be introducing new support for staff and students to develop their own clever ideas within a culture which supports enterprise and innovation. News about our Enterprise Campus will follow in the New Year.

People news

I have been delighted to receive many messages over the last few weeks of awards and accolades for colleagues across the University. It would be impossible to mention them all, but I would like to highlight just a few. Tim Ingold our Chair in Social Anthropology was made Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland for his service to UK-Finnish relations, and the same day, at the British Museum, received the Huxley Memorial Medal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the highest honour that the Institute presents.

Paul Thompson, of our School of Biological Sciences at the Lighthouse Field Station in Cromarty won the RSPB Nature of Scotland Award for Outstanding Contribution to Nature Conservation, and Professor Chris Secombes marked his elevation to Regius Professor of Natural History with a talk on the key research questions and interests that have driven his studies of the immune system of fish.

Gary Macfarlane was invited to present at the House of Lords as part of the national coalition which brings together parliamentarians, healthcare professionals, commissioners and patient groups to discuss issues affecting chronic pain. As part of this Professor Macfarlane was tasked with establishing a pain epidemiology task force, and through his work the University is now a member of a new £1.4million Arthritis Research UK/MRC research centre to tackle the impact of musculoskeletal disorders on people's ability to work.

Keeping fit, I’m assured, is a great preventative – and where better to do that than Aberdeen Sports Village which successfully defending its Scottish Gym of the Year title at the National Fitness Awards held in Leicester last weekend. Congratulations to the ASV team on also achieving a Gold award in the Investors in People scheme, the highest possible IIP standard, and as an added bonus the Investors in Young People award.

Professional development in teaching

I had the pleasure last week of congratulating a number of our teaching staff. who have recently completed one of the Professional Taught Programmes delivered by the Centre for Academic Development. These Master’s level programmes adopt a blended learning approach with supported workshops and structured online learning which gives opportunities to reflect on their own educational practice. Successful completion also entitles staff to receive UK-wide recognition as Fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).

The Centre now offers four part-time Postgraduate Certificate programmes in Higher Education-related topics, and all are aligned explicitly with the UK Professional Standards Framework for Learning & Teaching in Higher Education and fully accredited by the Higher Education Academy (HEA). I know that our Centre for Academic Development is now keen for interest in the Postgraduate Certificate Programmes for the academic year 2015-16, and I encourage staff to find out more.

Development Trust

During the last financial year the Development Trust disbursed £5.2m in charitable grants to the University for a huge variety of projects in all three Colleges, thanks to the generous support of our worldwide family of alumni, friends and benefactors.  This was up from £3.4m in the previous year and the impact of this has benefitted not only our student body but staff, visitors and the wider local community.

In recent months the Development Trust has funded a wide range of scholarships including a 1st year Neuroscience with Psychology student, a 1st year Medicine student, a 3rd year Pharmacology student and a 4th year Economics student through the Jim Duncan Scholarship.  This scholarship is being funded in perpetuity by the generosity of Dr Mary Duncan, an alumna of the University who left a gift in her will to ensure that students could benefit for generations to come.

Further funding has been received from the Development Trust for a spring visit to the US by the Chamber Choir, specialist energy scholarships, international conference attendance by academics and the research being undertaken by Dr Toyo Fujii through the BP Fellowship in Applied Fisheries which has the potential to inform local and international fishery policies in the future.

Finally I want to wish all colleagues a very well-earned festive break and thank you again for all that we have achieved together this year.

Ian Diamond

Principal and Vice-Chancellor




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