Court Digest

Court Digest

The University Court met on 29 September. Among the items discussed were an update on the King's Transformation Projects, and progress in relation to the University's Aberdeen 2040 strategy.

This digest provides a summary of the main items of business discussed at the meeting of the Court held on 29 Sepember 2021. The papers from the Court meeting and the approved minutes of the Court's previous meeting are also available here: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/staffnet/governance/court-information.php#panel2453

New and Retiring Members

The Court welcomed Alisa Koester (President of AUSA), Camilo Torres Barragán (AUSA Vice-President for Communities) and Charlotte Pope-Williams (Independent Member) to their first meetings of Court. The Court also noted that it was Jenny Shirreffs and Nuala Booth’s last meeting as independent members and the Court recorded its considerable thanks and appreciation for the significant service they had both given to it and the University over several years. The Court also expressed its thanks to David Beattie, Director of Finance, for his important contribution to the University and wished him well in his new role.

Report from the Senior Governor

As the University’s new Senior Governor, Julie Ashworth thanked members of the Court and the management team for the welcome she had received since her appointment in July. The Senior Governor provided Court with a report on meetings she had undertaken with internal and external stakeholders since taking up office and outlined her priorities for and approach to leading the Court.

Report from the Principal and HE Sector/University Developments

The Court received a presentation from the Principal which reviewed the significant progress that the University had made in improving its financial, academic quality and league tables position over the past three years and discussed how to build further on the great progress achieved by the community during that time. The Court discussed the challenges posed by Brexit and the growth that would be required to further improve the University’s relative competitive position, while noting the significant progress already achieved towards the Aberdeen 2040 target of being consistently ranked within the UK’s Top 25 universities. Sustained investment in staff, in research capacity, in facilities and continually building the University’s reputation were all noted as being key to realising the University’s ambitions.

The Court also received a paper which discussed key developments in the higher education sector and highlighted some recent achievements of staff and students at Aberdeen.

Governance

Report of the Externally Facilitated Review of Governance

The Court received the recommendations and findings of the externally facilitated review of governance undertaken by Advance HE. The report concluded that there were no gaps of compliance in governance but that, as identified in the University’s phase 1 internal review of governance, there were opportunities to further enhance the effectiveness of Court. The review set out six high-level recommendations intended to strengthen the understanding of the boundaries between governance and management, the respective roles and relationships between Court, Executive and Senate (noting the separate review of Senate effectiveness that was ongoing) and the University’s governance culture.

The Court welcomed the review and agreed to adopt its recommendations in full which will now be taken forward for implementation under the oversight of the Court’s Governance and Nominations Committee.

The Court also received and approved recommendations from the Governance and Nominations Committee. These included: changes to the composition of Court sub-committees to ensure their memberships had the skills, experience and knowledge required and to provide for the involvement of all members of Court on at least one committee; and amendments to the protocol for the respective roles and interaction of the Rector and Senior Governor at meetings of the Court.  

Aberdeen 2040

The Court received two reports related to Aberdeen 2040, the first being a review of the progress made in delivering the actions included in the Operational Plan for 2020/21 and a second report which set out the Implementation Plan for Aberdeen 2040 through to 2025. The Implementation Plan set out the high-level, four-year actions agreed against each of the 20 commitments in Aberdeen 2040 plus the University’s overall ambitions with regard to league table performance, together with supporting key performance indicators and baselines/targets to monitor progress against.  The paper also outlined the University’s Operational Plan for the year ahead. In approving the Implementation Plan, the Court also welcomed the approach that had been undertaken to developing it in consultation with the University community. You can read the Implementation Plan for Aberdeen 2040 here.

Finance and USS

The Court received a report on the University’s expected financial position for the year ended 31 July 2021. While subject to external audit, this reported an underlying surplus of £8.7M which represented a significant achievement on the part of all staff within the context of the pandemic. When taken together with the University’s cash position, both were significantly improved on the position of three years earlier. The Court also received an oral update on the most recent discussions at a national level regarding the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

King’s Transformation Projects

The Court received a report on the King’s College Transformation Projects, which following a pause due to the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, had been reviewed by the respective Design Teams for the King’s Quarter and new Business School components of the programme. The Court noted that since the last cost review, the market had changed considerably, with building demand and costs increasing considerably in the UK and globally, which as a result had increased the expected cost of the projects.

Reviews of the new Business School project on the former Johnston Halls site had been undertaken to determine potential design savings without compromising its strategic objectives, with a similar review to be undertaken for the King’s Quarter Project.  The Court was advised that taking these into account and the options for financing the increases in cost, both projects were still considered to represent value for money, would increase the size and quality of the learning environment, provide a sustainable use of existing estate and provide a positive return through increases in fee income.

Court agreed that the King’s Quarter and new Business School projects - which have both received planning approval from Aberdeen City Council - progress as independent projects, within separate revised budget envelopes, to tender stage.   Further Court approval will be required before the construction phase can be commenced. 

Investment Strategy: Fossil Fuel Divestment and Impact & Thematic Investing Programme

As communicated in more detail to the University community in a recent update on progress on environmental sustainability, the Court approved a commitment to financial divestment from fossil fuels by 2025 and to support investment in energy companies who were leading the process of energy transition. This formed part of a thematic investment programme in businesses and sectors aiming to deliver an environmental, social and financial return across a range of sustainability themes.  The Court noted that the proposals had been developed in partnership with the student community and that they made clear the University’s intention to work with the energy sector as part of a just transition to a more sustainable future and recognised the benefit that those industrial partnerships bring to students and research.

Items for Approval and Information

The Court also considered the following further items of business for information or approval:

  • Schedule of Business;
  • Annual Report to SFC on Teaching Quality;
  • Annual Statement on Research Governance
  • Report on Senior Governor Appointment and Election Process;
  • Report from Executive Director of Advancement
  • Reports from sub-committees: Policy and Resources Committee; Remuneration Committee, and University Education Committee.

Any questions regarding the Court digest should be sent to Mr Bruce Purdon, Clerk to the Court b.purdon@abdn.ac.uk

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