Professor Peter Mathieson welcomes us to this year's Annual Report & Accounts.
I am always greatly inspired by the dedication and commitment of our students and staff. I have also been hugely encouraged by the support and interest of our many external stakeholders.
Our new Strategy 2030 has a strong people focus; one that cherishes our students, staff, alumni and friends. It defines our values and sets out our mission to make the University a destination of choice for talented people from our city, our nation and the wider world.
Our ambitious action plan will ensure that we listen to feedback from our students and staff. We will continue to make changes that will improve their experience – for students the initiatives will be led by our new VicePrincipal Students, Professor Colm Harmon, who recently joined us from the University of Sydney; for staff the work will be led by Vice-Principal Sarah Smith. Nevertheless, for both students and staff, improving the experience is everyone’s responsibility.
Since arriving in Edinburgh, I have been very keen to hear the views of members of the University community. I am therefore very pleased that we planned, completed and analysed the University’s first-ever staff survey during my first year in office. Insights drawn from it will help to inform the changes we make, aimed at ensuring that the University is an even better place to work and to live.
Our financial position remains strong, but to deliver our strategic priorities – and meet the external challenges ahead – we must prioritise, identify efficiencies, avoid duplication or waste, and consider areas in which we can reduce expenditure without dampening our aspirations.
Equality, diversity and inclusion, as ever, will be key. In July, we celebrated the resilience of seven medical students who, in 1869, blazed a trail for women’s access to higher education. The group – known as the Edinburgh Seven – were among the first women admitted to a UK university but they faced resistance from male peers and from the establishment such that they were prevented from graduating. I first heard of their story soon after I took up my post: I felt this was a historical wrong that should be rectified, and this summer, 150 years later, we awarded each of them a posthumous honorary degree.
Although the discrimination that the Edinburgh Seven faced now belongs to history, barriers still exist that deter too many talented young people from succeeding at university. We must learn from these women and strive to widen access for all who have the potential to succeed.
This autumn, we met an objective to attract students from the country’s most economically challenged areas, and did so three years ahead of schedule. We delivered against a Scottish Government target that 10 per cent of new full-time Scottish degree students should be from so-called SIMD20 areas – an index of social deprivation – by 2021.
The news coincided with the unveiling of our Widening Participation Strategy, which outlines steps to further improve access into higher education. The new strategy, which builds on our longstanding outreach work, includes a schools partnership, part-time access routes for adult learners and funding to support students who commute to the University.
Initiatives such as these strengthen ties with the community in which we are deeply rooted; as does our exciting role in the City Region Deal, which our Vice-Convenor of Court Anne Richards has so expertly covered. Our research staff will channel their world-leading expertise into this venture, which will strive to address the social and economic challenges facing south-east Scotland as well as in the wider world.
There is excitement too about our new international alliances. These include a project to curb the threat of drug-resistant infections in India; a collaboration with three Japanese research institutes on artificial intelligence and robotics; and a pledge to support public engagement training opportunities for women scientists in Africa. In May, I joined the opening of the international campus of Zhejiang University in China where we will translate medical research into healthcare technologies. In Shanghai, we have (jointly with Shanghai Jiao Tong University) launched China’s first Low Carbon College – a clear sign of our commitment to creating a more sustainable world. We are a global leader in research that addresses the real world impacts of climate change and are continuing to develop opportunities for our students and staff to learn about climate change while encouraging them to reduce their own footprint.
This Annual Report and Accounts shows how we use all of our resources – people, knowledge and natural assets – to create and sustain value for our stakeholders. I want the University to be a place of personal and societal transformation. All of the elements are in place; no amount of political or economic upheaval should deflect us from this course. I urge all members of the University community to play their part in turning the high principles and vision expressed in Strategy 2030 into reality.
Thank you for your interest in the University of Edinburgh.