Professor Peter Mathieson welcomes us to this year's Annual Report & Accounts.
"This year’s Annual Report and Accounts describe a year that has seen every aspect of life impacted in some way by Covid-19. The human and economic loss is devastating and something that we will be adapting to – as individuals and organisations – for years to come.
The University of Edinburgh‘s strong purpose and values have guided our response and enabled us to synthesise, adapt and share the range of knowledge and expertise we nurture here at Edinburgh. Strong leadership and management, with the willingness to take difficult decisions despite the lack of certainty about the future, has seen us achieve a very successful financial outcome under the circumstances, as set-out in the following pages.
My personal thanks, and on behalf of the senior leadership team, go to all members of the University community for their outstanding contributions. We do not underestimate the many personal and professional challenges that colleagues have navigated in the past year: these make the achievements even more remarkable.
Our contributions to the pandemic response have been wide-ranging: our researchers led work on disease susceptibility, treatments and the effectiveness of vaccines, and our teaching staff have been making fantastic efforts to continue to deliver education to our students. Staff in our accommodation services have worked tirelessly to take care of our students in very challenging circumstances. Estates staff managed our 550+ buildings across Edinburgh, closing many of them down, maintaining them all during lockdown and then progressively re-opening them: a massive set of tasks. Security staff, servitors and many others continued to attend campus despite the pandemic’s effects. Across all our colleges and departments, our students and staff have been responding: advising on economic recovery, mitigating digital exclusion, improving food supply chains, responding to challenges in the arts sector and much more.
Edinburgh is an institution that is operating within the top tier globally, and we have ambitions for our curriculum to match that and to develop with the needs of our future students in mind. It has been fantastic to watch the progress of the Curriculum Transformation programme over the last year. Our ambitious plans will generate an outstanding educational experience for students, increase our impact in how teaching is administered and supported, and create greater alignment with institutional strategic priorities.
Nevertheless, it has been an exceptionally challenging year for our students, who have had to navigate a full academic year of lockdown or partial lockdown. Maintaining a sense of attachment and community for our students whilst delivering a high quality of teaching was of utmost importance to us here at Edinburgh, and more on this can be found on pages 27 and 28.
We are determined to increase our global impact and our contribution to society, ensuring equitable access to education. We are very proud that The University of Edinburgh has been ‘home’ to a strong cohort of online Commonwealth Scholars over the last decade. Many of them are now our alumni, and the dedication that they showed to their learning is continuing in the contributions they continue to make in their communities and countries. We look forward to continuing this legacy.
I was delighted to see the University’s submission to Research Excellence Framework (REF 2021) completed in March. The University of Edinburgh is one of the world’s top research intensive universities, ranked in the most recent REF at 4th in the UK for research power (Times Higher Education, Overall Ranking of Institutions), with 83% of our research activity classified as world leading or internationally excellent. I look forward to seeing our research strengths reflected through our REF results.
As well as our research credentials, we have many operational developments to celebrate. In February this year, the University announced its completion of divestment from our direct and pooled investment in fossil fuels. This means the University does not hold any direct shares in fossil fuel companies, and our pooled and tracker funds do not invest directly, marking a significant milestone in both our journey to become carbon neutral by 2040 and our Strategy 2030 commitment to social and civic responsibility.
We know that removing investments from companies involved in fossil fuel extraction is a significant way in which organisations like ours can signal their support for a transition towards a zero carbon economy. Our research and teaching will continue to engage with the fossil fuel industry to aid that transition, and this year we prepare for the 26th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), which takes place in Glasgow in November. Many of our talented colleagues will be featuring heavily in both the build-up to COP26 and the event itself.
It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who served as our Chancellor from 1953 to 2010, a true champion of environmental causes and so much more. Throughout nearly 60 years of change, he witnessed the development and growth of the University and gave invaluable support to students, staff and senior University officials. His passionate belief in the positive benefits of education, as well as an innate inquisitiveness in scientific development was evident during his time as Chancellor. His successor, and his daughter, our current Chancellor HRH the Princess Royal, visited the University together with Her Majesty the Queen on 1st July 2021, taking a particular interest in our work on climate sustainability as outlined above.
As we look forward, there is genuine cause for optimism; with the unwavering demand for places at Edinburgh across all student cohorts, our increase in research awards and our industry engagement to name a few criteria for success, we can look ahead with confidence. Navigating very tumultuous external circumstances has impacted but by no means derailed our ambitions as a world-leading University, and our Strategy 2030 remains as relevant as ever: external events may have altered timescales, but our values, principles and vision remain the same."