Vice-Convener of Court's introduction
Anne Richards shares her observations on the University's finances.
This year marks the first full year in post for our Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Peter Mathieson. Working with our students, staff, alumni and other stakeholders, he has laid out a clear vision for the future, which builds on the strength of our global reputation for research while increasing our focus on excellence in teaching and widening participation.
Despite the political turbulence of recent months, and the many challenges faced by the higher education sector now and in the coming years, our community has embraced this vision wholeheartedly and is in a sound financial position to deal with the uncertainty.
...we are wholly committed to creating a more sustainable world through our research, teaching and day-to-day operations.
This year our revenue exceeded £1.1bn and we delivered a positive operating surplus for reinvestment in University activities.
Over the next few years, we will invest £1.4bn to transform our teaching spaces, research facilities and student accommodation. Of course, plans on this scale require financial discipline, a subject I reported on last year in the context of our improved cash forecasting and budgeting processes which enabled us to make changes to our risk appetite. Also important is the impact of our plans on our environment and local community. With its strong sustainability focus, our estates strategy chimes with the University’s wider strategic priorities, which are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
We are committed to creating a more sustainable world through our research, teaching and day-to-day operations. This year, we have reaffirmed our commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040 and are on track to halve our carbon emissions – relative to our expenditure – by 2025, compared with 2007/8 levels. We are also reviewing options that include low carbon heating in our buildings to help meet the 2040 target.
Creating a welcoming, sustainable campus that supports our ethos of inquiry, innovation and collaboration is also vital if we are to improve student and staff satisfaction.
A detailed plan to enhance the quality of the student experience – with its important linkage to staff satisfaction – is underway. It includes a review of our personal tutor scheme; measures to improve how we reward excellence in teaching; a prioritising of student-facing projects in our planned capital expenditure and the appointment of a new Vice-Principal for Students; such steps are essential if we are to remain a favoured destination for the best students.
The esteemed QS World University Rankings reaffirm our position as leading global player – fifth in the UK and 20th worldwide. The accolade is welcome, but we are not complacent.
As a leading centre of excellence, we must continue to build new research partnerships, such as our acclaimed medical alliance with Zhejiang University in China. This year we signed the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) too, which will help our staff operate at the highest international standards for assessment.
We are also committed to strengthening ties across Europe, and this year initiated agreements with the University of Amsterdam and University College Dublin. In February, we joined UNA Europa, a group of universities determined to draw on Europe’s rich intellectual history in order to build an innovative future.
Although we remain a global institution, influencing the world and helping to change lives for the better, we are true to our origins as a civic university rooted in Scotland’s capital.
The University played a key role in developing the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, which was formally agreed in August 2018. With its firm emphasis on inclusion, this £1.3bn initiative offers exciting opportunities for interdisciplinary research that will enable us to take the lead in the emerging field of data innovation.
Our desire to attract gifted students, irrespective of their background and circumstances, is undiminished. The University has for decades led the way in widening participation for people from economically challenged backgrounds. Our new Widening Participation Strategy will ensure that talented students who face disadvantage are supported at university, and as they move on to work or further study.
I am confident we can, and will, emerge strongly from current uncertainties. We are fortunate in being able to attract talented people of all ages and backgrounds and offer them an environment in which they can thrive and contribute to making the world a better place.