I’d like to thank all those who attended my open sessions this Autumn in Aberdeen and Qatar. It is important that you can ask questions of me directly and I hope those who came along found the sessions interesting. I plan to run these again in 2020.
In Aberdeen, I gave a short presentation about the University’s new strategy, Aberdeen 2040, which will be launched on 10 February 2020 which is the 525th anniversary of our founding. More information about this will be communicated in the coming months and I hope you engage with both the new strategy as well as events which will be held throughout 2020 to celebrate the anniversary.
My presentation slides are available below which also set out some of the submitted questions I answered at the sessions. Questions were also asked at the sessions, and summaries for Aberdeen and Qatar are available to read online which I hope you find useful.
Principal and Vice-Chancellor
Below you can find the Q&A's from
- The Aberdeen ASK Sessions
- The Doha ASK Sessions
You can view the Principal's powerpoint presentation from the Aberdeen session here.
- Looking to the Future
What is the university doing to fight climate change?
A significant amount of work has been done in this area and our emissions have been reduced by 30% over the last three years. The University is also ranked 31st in the world for its contribution to the UN’s sustainable development goals.
We are aligned with the Scottish Government’s declaration of a climate emergency and that’s why we are following a range of practical steps to make a difference. For example, we have been working with AUSA to develop a ten-point plan on this issue.
The University has several electric powered vehicles in its fleet, but are there any plans to look at hydrogen powered as another alternative?
We consider all vehicle types as options for our fleet and choose those that most closely fit the operational needs of the University. Given the relatively low mileages of University fleet vehicles, hydrogen is not the best option for us. Fully electric vehicles are closer to meeting operational needs and it’s likely we’ll see a significant increase in the use of them over the next few years as vehicles get replaced.
Can the University do anything to stop cars idling for long periods of time in car parks?
I agree its poor practice for people to do this. As part of our Health and Wellbeing programme we will consider ways of encouraging our community to be more mindful in the future.
Will graduation ceremonies continue to be performed using some Latin and would you prefer to conduct the ceremony in Scots?
We will continue to use some Latin in our graduation ceremonies – that was the language of education when the university was founded in 1495. I use some Doric in the opening address for the ceremony. I’m open minded about adjusting the opening of the ceremonies so that the first formal statement people hear is English rather than Latin to make it more contemporary. Latin remains useful for demonstrating the connection to our roots.
If Elphinstone Hall ceremonies cannot be extended over more days to accommodate more graduands, what provisions have been looked at into booking the larger and more fitting St Machar’s Cathedral?
The decision to waive graduation fees last year resulted in an increase in the number of students who wished to attend graduation. As a result, the decision was made to hold graduation ceremonies in a grand marquee on campus which has a much greater capacity than Elphinstone Hall. This also means that all those who wish to attend graduation as guests have been able to.
As part of the University’s review of graduation other venues have been assessed for their suitability to host ceremonies but the best option was to continue to hold them on campus. Feedback about the grand marquee from students and their families last summer was very positive, and we will use it again for our summer graduations in 2020.
What is the University doing to encourage participation in sport and support elite athletes?
We spend a substantial sum each year on the Sports Village to help to make it accessible to students and the local community. In addition, we’re currently reviewing our sports strategy.
Where do you see the University in 10 years’ time?
Half way through our strategy to 2040 which will mean we’ll be even more inclusive, interdisciplinary, international and sustainable. The University will also be bigger through increased student recruitment and we’re aiming to have a larger postgraduate community.
Once the Aberdeen 2040 strategy is approved by Court in December, we’ll develop a small set of targets and metrics to make sure we can track our progress. The Senior Management Team will be accountable to the University Senate and Court for making sure these are met.
International students who start their courses in January have encountered difficulties attending their summer graduation ceremonies as their VISAs expire in the New Year or Spring. Is there anything the University can do to help?
January start students are granted an extra 4 months on their Tier 4 visa following their course end date. This means a visa expiry date in May. Graduation Ceremonies are held in June and November and these dates cannot be changed. This unfortunately means that January start students cannot stay on in May for Graduation in November unless they begin a new course immediately and extend their Tier 4 visa or are able to switch into a work visa category.
Students can apply for a Standard Visitor visa to return to the UK for graduation. The current cost for this visa is £95. Further information can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/standard-visitor-visa
My hope is that the proposed reintroduction of the Post-Study Work visa by the UK government will partly resolve this issue. Judging by past experience of this scheme, the majority of our Masters students were keen to apply on completion of their studies.
- Student Experience & Employability
What makes the University Unique?
I’d have to say our 1495 foundational purpose ‘Open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others.’ No other University has had this purpose in place for almost 525 years. Our location in Aberdeen also makes us unique as does the University’s five Nobel prizes for subjects including medicine and nutrition. The new University strategy, Aberdeen 2040, will be distinctive, and I’d encourage every student to engage with it next year as it sets out what we want the University to be like over the next 20 years.
Are there plans to introduce student work placements as part of courses?
My preference is to be able to offer every student work experience opportunities as part of their degree programme. Professor Ruth Taylor has recently started at the University as Vice-Principal for Education and I’ll be giving her every support to make this happen.
Will the University continue to offer Erasmus+ opportunities after Brexit?
The Aberdeen 2040 strategy will mean international study and work opportunities are available for all students.
Can you make an introduction week for Erasmus students that has a comprehensive programme and orientation groups over numerous days?
We already offer this, and orientation takes place every year in September and January. It consists of a varied programme of interactive sessions. These are designed to introduce all new students to the University and the different systems, departments and ideals that we share here, as a way of helping you to settle in. We would of course welcome any feedback or suggestions on what else we could do to further support students transition to university.
It can sometimes be difficult to find an available computer in the library. What is being done to address this?
The Sir Duncan Rice Library has a total of 231 PC’s which represents 23% of the total number of PC’s available for students to use. Not surprisingly, the library is the most popular place for students to study and PC capacity was increased by 16% last year as a response to student feedback. The PC’s there are the only ones on campus that are exclusively “open access” and are therefore in high demand. The University has attempted to optimise the distribution of PC’s around the campuses for the different demands and we regularly review their use. It’s worth noting that PC labs are available for use elsewhere on campus and are relatively under-utilised in other buildings. Students can find out about available study space and free PC’s here
Why don't we have gender neutral toilets?
We have, but by no means all. Last year following an exercise where we surveyed the entire WC provision across our campuses Estates & Facilities identified 116 toilets, (12%) of our total provision, that could fulfil Aberdeen City Council Building Control’s interpretation of the Building Standards Scotland of a unisex/gender neutral toilet. This was discussed with AUSA and reported to the Student Experience Committee where it was agreed that Estates & Facilities would progress the re-designation of these toilets. Further survey work on the replacement of signage is nearly complete and we expect to start the changes early in the New Year.
It’s perhaps no surprise that Brexit was one of the key issues raised by several students who submitted questions. Three of the main themes were:
- How will the University be affected by Brexit?
- What will happen to me as an EU student after Brexit?
- Will new students from the EU have to pay tuition fees in the future?
If Brexit goes ahead, the main risk is we lose our proportion of European students and staff which we value so highly.
Unless Brexit happens, funding will be in place for EU students to cover course fees. However, after Brexit it is likely that any new students from European Union countries who begin their course from September 2021 onwards will have to pay international fees.
The government has committed to providing funding for EU students up to the September 2020 intake and then from 2021 new EU students will be treated as International students. It is possible that some scholarships will be available to EU students to make the fees more affordable.
For students from beyond the EU, nothing will change for you, but the University will be less European than it is now in terms of students, and possibly staff. I am determined to maintain our strong links across Europe.
Our Scottish recruitment is growing and the number of students we have recruited this year from the most deprived post codes in Scotland has almost doubled compared to last year. This is an important focus for the University to maintain our founding principle of being ‘open to all.’
Recruitment from the rest of the UK also increased this year and we’ve seen impressive growth in our number of international students.
- What made the University decide to open a campus in Doha?
AFG were the perfect partner for this part of the world because they share our goal of making a University of Aberdeen degree more accessible. According to THE, University of Aberdeen is the 28th most international University in the world and we want to build on this.
- What are the plans for expanding programmes on the Doha campus?
We plan to start a programme in International Commercial Law in January 2020, with aspirations to start further programmes in the future, including Education. Details of these programmes will be announced later this year and early next year.
- How do we start Clubs and Societies?
We now have a dedicated Student Events Coordinator in post, who is working with our AUSA Qatar Committee representatives and the wider student body to ensure we have a calendar of social events and established clubs and societies, some of which are already in place and being facilitated by our representatives. We have invested in activities and equipment in response to student requests. At this point we haven’t rejected any investment requests from students. More information on starting clubs and societies will be provided through the AUSA Qatar Committee Chair and it will be circulated to the student community.
- How can Clubs compete with other universities and encourage better players to participate and choose to study at UoA?
AUSA have approached the local Aspire zone to explore opportunities for Doha students to make use of the facilities. More information will be gathered and shared with the student community.
- What advice would you give to all staff and students?
Work hard, study hard; if you are excited by a subject, that is the best prospect to ensure your success and lead to your future career.
- When will the parking issues at the front of the building be resolved?
Parking has historically been a challenge due to our location and available space. However, we have purchased an additional dedicated student parking space which can comfortably accommodate 65 vehicles. This is supported by a student shuttle bus service to and from the campus to ensure that students do not have to cross the busy main road between the additional parking and the main campus.
Dedicated disabled vehicle parking will also be allocated either side of our two main entrances, with additional disabled parking adjacent to our new PG teaching block (Villa 0). This work is to be completed during the term break within the month of December. The biggest challenge we face is getting our student body to park their vehicles within our new parking area (65 spaces). The possibility of introducing a valet service will be reviewed.
- What awards are available for staff in Doha?
Staff can be nominated for the University’s Excellence Awards and more information about these can be found on the University’s website, here.
- What co-curricular opportunities are there available to Doha students?
A new member of staff will take up the post responsible for Careers support on the Doha campus on the 1 December. A number of new opportunities will be available to students which mirror and compliment those already offered on the Aberdeen campus. As part of this, it is planned that students be provided with seminars where they can broaden their horizons from a careers perspective, learn about entrepreneurships, HR services and various other skills which will help them in their chosen profession.
- Can Doha offer Summer courses like they do in Aberdeen?
This would not be possible at UG level but options to offer at PG level could be explored. AFG would be happy to support Doha students visiting the Aberdeen campus to participate in UoA Summer programmes. These may not need to be credit bearing but would help to promote student collegiality across the campuses.
- Do we have a student representative on the Doha campus?
Yes, but it is acknowledged that we need to better promote the role across campus and explore the possibility of providing an office or meeting space.