Billet Report


The General Council of the University of Edinburgh

Report By Professor Charles Swainson Convener of the Business Committee of the General Council

It has been a most interesting six months since my last report to you. Your Business Committee has been working on the priorities agreed at the start of the session. These are: improving the student learning experience; building communities inside and outside our University; supporting an alumni engagement strategy; supporting our University’s strategic plan; and considering the impact of further devolution of powers to the Scottish Government.

Your Academic Standing Committee, led by Stuart Macpherson, has met with Mr Gavin Douglas, Deputy Secretary – Student Experience, and Ms Kathleen Hood, Head of Widening Participation and Deputy Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions. Our University has 41 per cent of students from outside the UK: a truly international University. However, the number of 18-year-olds will decline over the next 10 years and the competition for the best students remains intense. The results of the National Student Survey are not available at the time of writing but our University continues to invest in improvement. The University’s Personal Tutor scheme has a high approval rating and the University’s internal surveys show steady progress. More effort is going into identifying, rewarding and promoting excellent teaching and the Principal has made clear that both teaching and research must be delivered to high standards.

The University has done extraordinarily well in the recent Research Excellence Framework, achieving world-leading and internationally excellent standards across 83 per cent of our disciplines. The University has improved its position to fourth in the UK, for research power. The hard work and achievements of academic staff cannot be overstated and we congratulate them all. However the Scottish Government does not share this view. Your Business Committee has discussed its intention to remove £14m of core research funding over the next three years and redistribute this to less successful institutions.

We would encourage our Scottish-domiciled alumni to alert Members of the Scottish Parliament to this damaging treatment and wilful disregard of rewarding success. I hope this may cause a softening of the decision.

Your Public Affairs Standing Committee, led by Matt McPherson, has been working with Development and Alumni on a range of initiatives. Following a review by our University Secretary, your Business Committee is considering how best to interact with alumni around the world. We will continue to take Half-Yearly Meetings of the General Council outside Edinburgh but these will be linked to a wider range of academic and engagement activities. In 2016, we will return to London and try a different, less formal format linked to a fun social activity.

Your Constitutional Standing Committee is keeping a careful eye on the Higher Education Governance Bill in the Scottish Parliament and the new proposals for further devolution of powers from Westminster. Few details are available as I write, so perhaps there will be more to say at the Half-Yearly Meeting. Our response to the Governance Bill consultation has been published by the Scottish Government and we wait to see if we have been heard.

The University’s Annual Report and Accounts to 2014 has been discussed by your Finance and Services Standing Committee. The University had another outstanding year due in no small measure to the leadership of our Principal and his able team. The University grew its research income again, and achieved a 4 per cent surplus to invest in new staff, buildings and facilities. Ninety-five per cent of graduates are in proper employment or further study six months after graduating, a very high achievement. The creation of 28 new companies demonstrates the contribution made to the macro economy. There is clear investment in staff development with 92 per cent having an appraisal.

I’m delighted by the election of Ritchie Walker, former president of the Graduates Association, and Alan Brown, a former Convener, to be your new Court Assessors from August. Our grateful thanks go to Anne Smyth and Alan Johnston for their outstanding contributions.