Staff news

Court meeting: 14 June 2021

The University Court held its most recent meeting by video conference on 14 June.

We publish regular updates on matters discussed at all Court meetings, during which members consider matters of strategic importance to the University.

Meetings of the Court are held five times a year.

Governing body

The Court is the University’s governing body. With a focus on strategic direction, it takes the final decisions on issues of fundamental concern to the wellbeing of the University.

Detailed information on the membership and activities of the University Court, including meeting agendas, papers and minutes, is available online.

Detailed information on University Court

Summary of Court meeting: 14 June 2021

The following reports are summaries of a selection of items discussed and agreed at the meeting on 14 June.

Introductory Remarks

Debora Kayembe, Rector, welcomed members and attendees and shared a statement marking Refugee Week (14-20 June), which has been published on the University’s website. A series of events have also been organised Edinburgh Global to showcase the University’s support of refugee projects. Réka Siró, Students’ Association Vice-President Activities & Services, was welcomed as a new member of Court and Alan Johnston, Doreen Davidson and Clare Reid were thanked for their service to the University on the occasion of their last meeting as Court members. Court’s congratulations were recorded to Anne Richards, former Vice-Convener of Court, on the award of a damehood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Principal’s Report

Peter Mathieson, Principal & Vice-Chancellor, supplemented a written report with the following points:

  • Freedom of expression and academic freedom and autonomy are of great importance to the University – as shown by the University being one of the first in the sector to publish a statement on freedom of expression and taking a sector leading role on the topic. This was also discussed at a recent meeting involving Heads of School and the importance to all of upholding freedom of expression and academic freedom was evident;
  • The overall financial position is positive and the year-end outcome should show a surplus. Action taken in response to the pandemic including the pausing of the capital plan, wage restraint and the voluntary severance scheme have all contributed to improving financial sustainability over the year; 
  • The latest QS World University Rankings place the University at 16th in the world, with increases in key measures underpinning the rankings;
  • Student application figures are strong and have increased in almost all categories;
  • This has been a record year for entrepreneurship and innovation at the University, including the award of £71 million in grants for translational research, 100 new company launches, £36 million in funding gained by spin-out companies and the £20 million award for the Advanced Care Research Centre – the largest single industrial research award ever made to the University, amongst other successes;
  • As planned, the Adaptation & Renewal Team process concluded at the end of May and has been re-incorporated into the management bodies of the Senior Leadership Team and the University Executive; and,  
  • There will be a series of senior recruitment campaigns launched over the coming months for the appointment of: a Vice-Principal Corporate Services on a permanent basis; a Provost – a new role for the University rather than the traditional Senior Vice-Principal role; a Vice-Principal Research & Enterprise; and, two Heads of College as the terms of office of the two current postholders conclude next year. All appointments are subject to Court approval and will involve Court input in the selection process.  

Members raised the following points:

  • Whether the outlook for future government research funding has improved in recent months – it was noted that there has been some improvement given a recent announcement on UK government funding to help mitigate the loss of EU research funding but this is only a temporary measure. The medium term outlook will not be known until a UK government spending review expected in the autumn; and,
  • A request for a written briefing on freedom of expression in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion matters in the context of a recent report at the University of Essex. It was noted that a Court briefing or seminar on freedom of expression is planned and this can be included as part of the session.


Curriculum Transformation Update

A progress summary of the Curriculum Transformation Programme since the last update in February 2021 was reviewed. The programme was formally launched in April 2021, with an online Curriculum Transformation Hub established with briefing papers, videos and feedback tools to encourage a University-wide discussion on the topic. The following points were raised:

  • What the initial response has been from staff and any emerging themes – there has been a sense of openness to discussing the topic, with particular interest in the concept of what might be an “Edinburgh student” in a curriculum sense and how this might be a differentiator with other universities;  
  • The feasibility of the timescales given the impact of the pandemic on workloads and potential difficulty in engaging with all stakeholders – while the timescales are ambitious, the programme is intended to build in intensity over time, with the current phase being a more gradual conversation-initiating phase to give time for as many contributions as possible. Some who are more engaged are keen to move to later phases now, e.g. curriculum redesign, but the programme will keep to its timings to encourage more contributions;
  • The decision-making process once inputs have been received – there is a Curriculum Transformation Board that reports to the University Executive but the primary body will be the Senate, with University Executive and Court involvement as appropriate;
  • Whether there is a risk of fatigue impacting on engagement in some groups, especially at the end of the academic year – levels of engagement and fatigue may come in waves as the academic year cycle progresses and this will have to be managed. Timing phases to best attract student engagement will also be critical. The subject matter tends to galvanise academic staff and students and the Hub can be useful in identifying any areas which might be less engaged;
  • The current spectrum of opinion and whether a “Town Hall” style event might be organised – a wide range of opinion has been expressed, with the trend towards responses that are ambitious and positive. In-person engagement is something the team are keen to do and hopefully circumstances will allow this in due course; and,
  • The vision for co-creation, establishing an iterative mechanism and whether the programme is concerned with skills and employability more generally or with subject knowledge. On co-creation, the Institute for Academic Development is currently considering this and plans to bring forward suggestions for discussion by the end of the calendar year. On general or discipline-specific skills and knowledge, the programme is concerned with generic rather than discipline-specific skills.

Link to webpage:

Curriculum Transformation Hub


Students’ Association and Sports Union Reports

Ellen MacRae, Students’ Association President, presented reports from the Students’ Association and the Sports Union and highlighted the Student Awards and Teaching Awards ceremonies held online in May and the new student sabbatical officer team, who took up their roles earlier this month. As the University plans for the next academic year, the Association hopes that positive aspects of the current period can be maintained, such as increased accessibility (e.g. with online exams) and speed of decision-making, while making improvements in other areas, such as closer engagement with the student voice. Members discussed points raised in the reports, including: providing University IT assistance where requested – with a secondment from the University to the Association’s IT team recently made; maintaining regular communications to postgraduate students over the summer; the buddy scheme for first year students was welcomed; and, improving resources, including staff resources, dedicated to tackling sexual violence and harassment, with a request for Court to be updated on progress in this area – noting that funding for this area will increase.      

Réka Siró, Students’ Association Vice-President Activities & Services, noted that a priority will be to help bring students back to campus and keep spaces open and available as much as possible while maintaining and expanding help for those who may still feel isolated through the meet up and catch-up scheme and a global buddy scheme.


Academic Year 2021/22 Planning Group Report

An update on the work of the Academic Year 2021/22 Planning Group was reviewed. Helping students and staff feel confident in the approach taken to a greater return to campus life next year is a key priority, as the physical campus increasingly becomes the centre of gravity again. Government public health guidance for the sector is expected over the summer period but given lead-in times internal planning is needed before the guidance is published. In tandem with other Scottish universities, the planning assumption being taken is for in-person teaching with 1 metre physical distancing plus other risk mitigations. Other areas of focus include arrangements for testing, vaccination, managed isolation for students travelling from red and amber list countries and providing as much clarity as possible in communications to new and returning students. The following points were raised in discussion:

  • Whether there will be a proportion of staff that will continue to work remotely as a default in the ‘level 0 and beyond’ scenario – this will depend on more detailed guidance from the Scottish Government. It is anticipated that there will be a staged return with those using on-campus research facilities, teaching in-person or providing in-person support services returning at an earlier stage;  
  • The rationale for the expected in-person teaching limit of approximately 50 students in one venue – this has been made in expectation of public health measures (such as 1 metre distancing) given the need to make timetabling decisions and room allocations as soon as possible and to give students more certainty about which activities will take place in-person or online; and,
  • Whether the University intends to guarantee a certain minimum level of in-person teaching to every student as some other institutions have done – timetabling planning is still underway so the impact on individual programmes and students is not yet known in terms of the in-person/online mix and will likely vary depending on the particular course choices of each student. The expectation at this stage is that seminars and class will typically be delivered in-person and lectures will typically be delivered online.

Link to webpage:



Planning Round 2021-22 Proposals

Proposed budgets and plans following the conclusion of the 2021-22 Planning Round process were considered. It was noted that the process has been slowed by external factors, particularly delays in the allocations of funded student places by the Scottish Funding Council, with the internal context being a focus on improving financial sustainability through greater cost control. Following review by the Senior Leadership Team, the proposed income and expenditure budgets are intended to  deliver an underlying operating surplus equivalent to 3% of total income, within the Court agreed range of 3-5%. The following points were raised in discussion:

  • The importance of ensuring sustainable workloads for staff and high quality teaching for students and carefully reflecting on this when making decisions on cost controls;
  • Whether there are pinch points in improving the student experience that may be affected by a focus on cost control;
  • The impact of a potential reduction in tuition fees for English-domiciled students if this element of the Augar Review is implemented – approximately 30% of undergraduate students are English-domiciled but it remains to be seen whether the Augar Review will be implemented in partial, full or modified form and this will be closely monitored;
  • When the Planning Round will revert to a longer time horizon rather than the current one-year plans – the intention is to move to a five year planning horizon with a ten year capital plan. Work is underway to develop a prioritised capital plan encompassing estates, digital infrastructure and other capital demands; and,
  • More generally, the University is in a strong financial position and the budget holders (the Heads of College and Heads of Professional Services Groups) and those in individual areas who also make budgeting decisions will all recognise the importance of improving the student and staff experience when prioritising activities.

The Planning Round 2021-22 proposals were approved.


China Collaborations

An update on current and planned partnerships in China was noted and the award of a procurement framework to support the strategic development of partnerships in China approved. Proposed arrangements for a Joint Institute to enhance an existing partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University in the Low Carbon College in Lingang, Shanghai, were noted.


Institutional Position on Scottish Independence

The current neutral stance position taken by the University on Scottish independence was reviewed and reaffirmed. 

Link to webpage:

Position on Scottish Independence 


Other items

The proposed sale of the contract to deliver a pharmacy function in the Health and Wellbeing Centre at Bristo Square to a specialist pharmacy provider that can deliver a high-quality pharmacy function for students and staff was approved. The annual internal effectiveness review for Court in 2019/20 was approved and proposed arrangements for a review of the 2020/21 year noted. An annual update on the University’s implementation of the Prevent duty was noted. The Students’ Association Certificate of Assurance was noted and the Articles of Association (remaining as previously) was given a renewed approval. Proposed changes to the Students’ Association Democracy Regulations to improve postgraduate representation were approved. The annual undergraduate and postgraduate degree programme regulations were approved. A regular update from the Director of Finance was considered, along with regular reports from Court’s committees on activities being undertaken in support of Court.


Further information on the remit and work of Court and its Committees can be found online.

University Committees