Staff news

Court meeting: 22 February 2021

The University Court held its most recent meeting by video conference on 22 February.

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.

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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: 22 February 2021

The following reports are summaries of a selection of items discussed and agreed at the meeting on 22 February.

New Year’s Honours

Members of staff, members of Court and honorary fellows who had been recognised in the New Year’s Honours were congratulated on their awards:

  • Dr Heather Bacon, Animal Welfare and Veterinary Outreach Manager, Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education, OBE for services to Veterinary Education, to Animal Welfare and to Charity in the UK and Abroad;
  • Professor Wendy Bickmore, Director, MRC Human Genetics Unit, CBE for services to Biomedical Sciences and to Women in Science;
  • Professor Bashabi Fraser, Honorary Fellow, Centre for South Asian Studies, CBE for services to Education, to Culture and to Integration in Scotland; and,
  • Caroline Gardner, Court member, CBE for services to the Scottish public sector.


Principal’s Report

The Principal thanked the Rector, and Evelyn Dunton, Court Services Officer, on the occasion of their last Court meeting and wished them well for the future. Court noted the contents of the report and additional information on on-going discussions between the Scottish Funding Council and the Principals of all Scottish universities regarding potential additional funding given the financial impact of the pandemic. Any additional funding will be welcomed but is unlikely to address the full financial impact of the current period and the long-term need to increase the unit of resource for higher education.


Research Excellence Framework 2021 Briefing

The Senior Vice-Principal delivered a presentation on the upcoming Research Excellence Framework, a UK-wide assessment of research quality and impact used in the allocation of future public funding for research and to evidence the benefits of previous public funding. The University was ranked 4th in the UK and 1st in Scotland in the previous exercise held in 2014 under the measure of research power (quality of research multiplied by volume). For the 2021 exercise, the University intends to submit to 28 of the 34 Units of Assessment (broad subject areas). Five of the units are joint submissions with other institutions given research collaborations in these areas.

The following points were discussed:

  • How assessments of research quality are made and if appeals are allowed – assessments are by peer review using panels mainly comprised of senior UK-based academics, with some international panel members and some from industry also. Appeals can be made on process but not on a panel’s judgements;
  • The importance of assessing research impact and how well the sector was prepared for this in the previous exercise – research impact was introduced in 2014 at 20% of the overall score (and is now 25% of the overall score), with some institutions better prepared for this new element than others. Significant effort is being made at the University to ensure that the impact case studies submitted in 2021 are of the highest quality given that they can be a key differentiator; and,  
  • The extent to which lessons learned from the previous exercise can be applied. As there are important changes in assessment criteria and other rules between each exercise learning applicable lessons can be difficult. However, continuities do exist and colleagues have learned both from personal experience of previous submissions and from sector wide learning.

Link to webpage:



Adaptation & Renewal Report

An update on the work of the Adaptation and Renewal Team from December 2020 to mid-February 2021 was reviewed. Efforts have focused on responding to the increased public health restrictions announced in December and January, with teaching moving to a digital-only rather than hybrid model for the majority of students. Following Government advice, students who vacated accommodation over the Christmas period have been encouraged not to return to their accommodation in Edinburgh at the present time and more flexible rent breaks for University accommodation have been introduced to assist with this. Working from home remains the default for most staff, with exceptions for some research and teaching activities (e.g. in-person teaching in medicine and veterinary medicine). 

The following points were discussed:

  • Expectations for the period after Easter and for the first semester of the next academic year – Government guidance is awaited but if restrictions allow, access will be prioritised after Easter for specialist teaching spaces and for the supervision of dissertations. For the first semester of the next academic year a cautious approach to planning is currently being taken in the absence of Government guidance;
  • The message that staff should make ‘best endeavours’ in the current circumstances in managing their work when most workloads have not been reduced and most recruitment of new staff is being paused – this is being discussed by the Staff Experience Committee and the next ‘pulse’ staff survey will focus on home and hybrid working. The phased return of nursery and school provision should help many staff with childcare responsibilities; 
  • Engagement with equality and diversity impact assessments of measures taken as result of the pandemic – this is presently being reviewed by Professor Sarah Cunningham-Burley, University Lead on Equality, Diversity & Inclusion within the Adaptation & Renewal Team structure;
  • The extent to which enhanced cleaning measures has added to the workload of cleaning staff – as many buildings are closed and fewer students are resident in University accommodation the overall requirement for cleaning services is reduced at present; and,
  • Childcare provision and whether a partnership approach could be taken with other agencies in the city – the University has continued to engage externally, including on the issue of including university staff as key workers in respect of childcare provision, as has occurred in England.  

Link to webpage:



EUSA President’s Report

The Students’ Association President reported on activities since the last meeting, including: the work of the Sports Union; the ‘Green During Covid-19’ campaign; high levels of nominations for the Teaching Awards and candidate nominations for the forthcoming student elections; and, noted concerns over the cost for international students of recently announced Government quarantining measures, including costs for those required to return to the UK for visa applications. It was noted that Government quarantining measures have yet to be finalised for higher education students and it is hoped that University-owned accommodation can be used for quarantining purposes. Members discussed which areas the Students’ Association would suggest the University prioritise to most benefit the student experience in the present circumstances – more pro-active engagement in offering additional support to those experiencing difficulties and clear communications on the likely arrangements for teaching and student services for the next academic year were suggested. 


Communications and Marketing Update Report

A report on the work of the Department of Communications & Marketing including highlights and data from engagement channels was considered. The report was welcomed and the following points raised in discussion:

  • Understanding how the University of Edinburgh is perceived externally and the work of the Department in reputation building and encouraging media engagement across the University to contribute to this – a brand governance group exists to help ensure consistency and the University Executive will shortly be considering a more strategic approach to brand communications; 
  • Building a future set of metrics to try and understand the return on investment of different communications activity, e.g. impact on student applications;
  • The extent of relationship management with the media – good relationships exist and the pandemic has led to greatly increased media interest in expert commentary that many University staff can provide, with organisations such as the Science Media Centre assisting as a trusted intermediary;
  • Internal communications – the extent of staff and student engagement with internal communications and how communications and awareness can be improved, e.g. communicating the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, University values and freedom of expression more generally. It was noted that the recent focus of the Bulletin staff magazine on Covid communications has worked well, that the ‘open rates’ for all staff and all student emails are at an expected level but other forms of communication may be more effective and this will be explored, e.g. disseminating information locally using devolved structures provided this is done strategically and links local and central communications. Feedback from the communication sub-group of the Staff Experience Committee has echoed that there is interest in more communication of policy decisions and other initiatives;
  • Media training for staff likely to be approached for media appearances – a range of training including for broadcast media has been offered to Vice-Principal and other frequently approached staff; and,
  • Communications to and from Court – improving the press cuttings service to highlight key articles and improving communication of the work of the Court to stakeholders.

Other items

The partnership with the Edinburgh International Book Festival was discussed and 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.

The Rector thanked all Court members for their contributions and closed the meeting with some reflections on her period of office on the occasion of her last meeting. The Rector paid tribute to her Assessor, Angi Lamb, and thanked the former Vice-Convener of Court, Anne Richards, for presiding at meetings when she was not able to attend.

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

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Court Committees