ASK Sessions 2018/2019

ASK Sessions 2018/2019

Dear Students,

I'd like to thank all those who submitted questions for and attended my Q&A sessions at Foresterhill and Old Aberdeen last week. I found the events very useful and I hope those who came along did too. It's important that we have these sessions, so you can share your views and raise any concerns, and we will organise more events like this later in the year.

Around 100 questions were submitted in advance of the sessions covering a range of topics, from my role as Principal, to campus development, our international partnerships and the future of the University.

Everyone who submitted a question has been sent an email to thank them for their contribution and we have also contacted several students who raised specific questions about topics which require further investigation.

Thanks to everyone who asked a question either online or at the sessions. Similar events will be organised later in the year and I look forward to seeing you there. Here's a round-up of the main questions and answers from both sessions.


What is your role as Principal and how much can you affect decisions?

As Principal, my key priority is to guide the development of the University in discussion with a wide range of internal groups and external organisations. To achieve this, I bring different groups and interests together to help move the University forward and make sure it is academically successful and financially sustainable.

Internally, the groups which oversee the governance and operation of this University, include: Court, Senate, Senior Management Team, Heads of School, Directors of Professional Services and AUSA.

Externally, I also work with the UK and Scottish Governments as well as businesses and community organisations and seek to persuade them to support our objectives.

What is your salary?

This information has been freely available on our website since I took up my role:

What are your plans for the university, and will students and graduates be part of that?

The plan is to grow the University and work is ongoing to increase the number of students who study here. At the same time, we will increase staff numbers to protect the staff / student ratio. Plans are in place to recruit around 50 new members of staff to enhance the quality of our teaching as well as our research output.

We are also making significant investments in our estate to ensure that our teaching and learning facilities are of a standard you deserve. We recently prepared the site for our new Science Teaching Hub which is due to open in 2021. It’ll take a few years to see the results, but these improvements will have a very positive impact on the quality of the education we provide.

We’ve recently launched a new process to develop the University strategy for the next 20 years. This is a major opportunity to shape our direction in the coming years and students are a key part of this. We’re looking for student and staff volunteers to join the groups that have been created. For more information, and details on how to volunteer, please visit:

For those not involved with the groups there will be opportunities to contribute to strategy development through an app which will enable you to participate and put your ideas forward.

What are the core values you want to promote?

The University was founded in 1495 to be open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the services of others. Those have been our core values for more than 500 years.

Originally, the University was founded to train doctors, lawyers and teachers to help the local community and make a difference to Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland. Now we are producing graduates who live and work around the world, all contributing to the communities in which they live.

Similarly, we continue to look for opportunities to provide access to a University of Aberdeen education to people around the world, whether that’s online or as part of one of our international partnerships.


I received several questions about Brexit and what it potentially means for the University. The three we discussed during the open sessions were:

  • What advantages will the University see from leaving the European Union next month?
  • Will Brexit affect the funding of university and fees for international students?
  • How is the University preparing for the event of a no-deal Brexit?

I can’t think of any advantages to Brexit for the University. We have a wonderful community of EU students and staff and I want to protect that in the years ahead. No other UK University has the same profile as us with a strong European presence as well as a significant international student body.

The Scottish Government may take steps to protect the flow of European students to university as around 40% stay in the country after graduation and contribute to society and the economy. Currently, Holyrood sets aside £100m to support undergraduate EU students.

Under Brexit however, EU students will become international students and will be required to pay the same fees as students from around the world. The Scottish Government has guaranteed EU students will have funding in 19/20 but it’s not yet clear what will happen after that.

From the University’s perspective, mitigation is in place in terms of an increased focus on global student recruitment, but I’d like to maintain our level of EU students too. We are also scenario planning for a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which will affect programmes like Erasmus exchange programme and our research funding. Going by media reports, it seems increasingly less likely that the UK will leave the European Union without a deal.

International Partnerships

I also received several questions about our international partnerships, including those in Qatar, Sri Lanka and South Korea. Many related to Qatar’s human rights record and our relationship with the Qatari Royal Family.

Our partner in Qatar shares the University’s compelling vision to open up higher education to a broader group, especially women in Doha, which we think is a strong reason for working in the country.

We’re being very careful that our activities in Qatar are in line with human rights. We are aware of and are mitigating the risks, but we are also determined to bring access to education to the community there.

This is not a commercial enterprise for our partner, Al Faleh Group (AFG), and the objective is to make higher education available to a broad cross section of society. Currently, there is only one other full-range University in Qatar (which teaches in Arabic), so we are working to make a university education more accessible.

Why are we setting up programmes in Sri Lanka when the South Korea campus was never completed?

It’s a good thing to establish overseas programmes in the service of others. They can be hugely beneficial to the local communities in these regions which fits with our values.

We can make a positive difference to the communities we’ll serve in Sri Lanka and Qatar. Although the project in South Korea didn’t work out, we should still look for opportunities to be of service to others and bring educational and research benefits to them when we have distinctive expertise that can make a difference.

How could the University give more direction to international postgraduates for pre-arranging practical hands-on experience with their nation's industry, before coming to study your programmes?

Our Careers Service is available to prospective students and the team can provide advice to these students about gaining experience, but it would be up to the individual to follow this up. Once the students are signed up to the University there’s more we can do to support them at that point.

What do you intend to do to help distance learning students fully participate in Aberdeen's academic community?

There’s no easy answer to this as it may be more of a challenge to engage when people are not on campus. However, setting up online discussion groups is a good first step. We’re also growing the number of online courses we provide, and a large number are due to go live later this year. There is also potential for more blended learning in our courses now with lectures and tutorials mixed with online learning.

Would it be possible to open the Sir Duncan Rice Library 24 hours a day?

A consultation is underway with students regarding the demand for 24-hour library facilities. In the meantime, please remember that study space in the MacRobert Building is accessible 24/7.

Recent efforts have been made to improve mental health and counselling services on campus, but they are continually overloaded. There also seems to be a link with use of electronic devices. Is the university staying aware of current research in this area?

You’re right, it’s a challenge to keep up with demand. Without wanting to suggest themes for our new strategy development process, as that is up to students and staff, I’d be disappointed if the university community doesn’t decide that mental health is something we should focus on.

It’s very important that we maintain interpersonal, face-to-face discussions and interactions to prevent an escalation of the time students are spending on devices.

Courses tend to focus on scholarly work, rather than develop more practical experience. Others need to work part-time to gain relevant experience. Is this something the University can address?

I absolutely agree it’s good to get practical experience to sharpen intellectual and technical skills. Work experience is a good idea. I’d like in the years ahead for all students to be offered work experience as part of their course, but it’s not something I’d make mandatory.

How can we ensure big events at the University don’t go amiss and are externally promoted?

It is essential we celebrate and promote University and AUSA achievements. Our communications team would be delighted to support your efforts through re-tweeting, sharing and media work. Please let us know about your achievements and events and we’ll be happy to support you.

If you’re unsure where to start, let AUSA know and highlight what you’d like to be shared.

What is the University’s HR procedure to tackle repetitive sick leave from Tutors on PostGrad programs and its long term effect on the student body affected by it?

The University has a Sickness and Attendance Management Procedure which can be accessed at the link to the HR Handbook below.  This sets out arrangements that staff should follow to report their absence as well as how short term and longer term absences are managed.

For short term, repetitive sickness absence, managers will meet with staff when they return to work to discuss their absence, any support that can be put in place and whether there are any health related issues likely to impact on attendance at work. We also have in place automatic referral to Occupational Health where a member of staff has accrued 3 separate occurrences of sickness absence in a rolling 12 month period or they have an aggregate of 21 days sickness absence in a 12 month period.  The purpose of such referrals is to seek professional medical advice concerning health matters, whether any adjustments should be considered and likelihood of sustaining regular attendance at work.

Should absence persist, the University also has in place the Capability Procedure to ascertain whether other measures are appropriate.   

Away from work what is your guilty pleasure?

Great question! I love football and am a life-long Aberdeen supporter. Football to me is like theatre and when I’m watching it I’m completely focused on it, so it’s a form of relaxation from work!

Despite charging tuition fee for PhD students, why aren’t we allowed to attend lectures to fill gaps in knowledge?

There is nothing that stops a PhD student attending lectures to fill knowledge gaps and the normal route is to approach the lecturer to ensure it this is ok.

Why is there a dress code for Graduation?

Graduation is a formal University occasion and, in keeping with its status as one of the four Scottish ‘Ancient’ Universities (Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow & St Andrews), all formal University occasion requires the wearing of full academic dress.  The Academic Dress of an institution is set out in the Acts and Statues governing the creation of an institution.  When new degrees are established the Senate approves the details of the corresponding academic dress.

In the United Kingdom, dark clothing is worn beneath the appropriate academic robe.  Graduation itself is the point at which the ‘graduand’ is formally admitted to the degree.  At Aberdeen, this is the point at which the Chancellor, or Vice-Chancellor, ‘caps’ the student and the Sacrist places the hood on the graduate.  Clearly, in the context of the in-person ceremonies at Aberdeen, the academic dress itself plays a significant physical role in the actual act of graduation.

Will you be introducing more courses related to Asia, particularly within International Relations?

 The School of Social Sciences is currently looking at expanding its capacity to put on courses related to Asia.