Staff news

Court meeting: 6 October 2021

The University Court is the University’s governing body and held its most recent meeting on 6 October.

This is the first of five meetings scheduled this academic year. The following is a summary of the main items discussed and agreed at the meeting on 6 October. More detailed information, including the membership, agenda, open papers and minutes can be found here: Detailed information on the University Court.

Summary of Court meeting: 6 October 2021

New members and attendees

Debora Kayembe, Rector, welcomed members and attendees. New Court members Douglas Alexander, Ruth Girardet and Alistair Smith and new attendee Rona Smith, Director of Strategic Planning & Insight, were welcomed to their first meeting.


Principal’s Report

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

  • Members and attendees were thanked for the contributions to the Court seminar that took place prior to this afternoon’s meeting and considered the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and freedom of expression and academic freedom;
  • The successful return or introduction to campus for many students and staff at the start of the new academic year has helped create a positive atmosphere of renewal after the disruptions of the previous 18 months; and,
  • The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced earlier this week a new artificial intelligence fund for student scholarships and research fellowships. The Russell Group subsequently invited the University to produce a statement in response in recognition of the University of Edinburgh’s leadership in this area.

The following points were discussed:

  • The financial impact of the UK Government’s 1.25% Health and Social Care Levy on the University from April 2022 onwards, noting that as well as a direct cost, there will also likely be an indirect cost as suppliers may increase prices as their own operating costs increase;
  • The University has been successful in bidding to be a major participant in the UK Government’s Turing Study Abroad Scheme and would also be keen to be involved in any Scottish Government-funded international student exchange scheme, as has been mooted;
  • The impact of the increased student intake this year on the future size and shape of the University – external factors have meant that the student intake has been larger than planned, with a similar position evident at many comparator institutions. A general growth in overall student numbers is not a planning assumption or aim;
  • The Scottish Funding Council’s Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability – the review encourages collaboration within and between universities and colleges, which the University is involved with and is keen to continue doing;
  • The UN COP26 Climate Change Conference – there is leadership involvement in the COP26 Universities Network from Professor Dave Reay, involvement in a wide range of events in both the ‘green’ and ‘blue’ zones of the conference, as well as hosting events in Edinburgh, where many delegates will stay or visit during their time in Scotland;  
  • The proportion of teaching in groups under 50 that is taking place in-person – this varies by School and by course but on average the great majority of teaching of groups under 50 is taking place in-person at present; and, 
  • The reasoning for a cap on teaching groups in-person that are no larger than 50 – this is a reflection of capacity constraints when timetabling decisions were made with assumptions of what the public health guidance would be for universities and is in-line with Scottish Government expectations of careful management of a return to greater levels of on-campus activity this year. As this has been successful from a public health perspective there is confidence to raise the cap next semester, although much will depend on how the pandemic develops over the winter period.


Senior Leadership Recruitment

An update on recruitment for four senior leadership posts – Provost, Vice-Principal Research & Enterprise, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Science & Engineering and, Vice-Principal and Head of College of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences – was noted, with an encouraging level of interest from high quality applicants evident. 


National Student Survey Results and Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR) Response Action Plan

Findings from the 2021 iterations of the undergraduate National Student Survey (NSS) and Postgraduate Taught Experience Survey were reviewed. The results remain disappointing for the NSS in particular, with a decline in the overall satisfaction score to 71%. It was noted that, while the pandemic has led to an overall decline in student satisfaction levels for the sector, some institutions have improved over this period. Many comments submitted by students chime with findings from the recent Enhancement-led Institutional Review (ELIR), such as a desire to reform the current Personal Tutor system, improving quality and timeliness of feedback on academic work, inconsistency between Schools, a slow pace of change and the general complexity of navigating the University from a student perspective. While the overall ELIR outcome is positive, there are challenging recommendations in the report for the University to consider and act upon. A draft action plan to respond to the recommendations was reviewed and will be submitted to Senate for approval.

Court discussed the results and agreed to emphasise the high strategic priority it places on improving student satisfaction measures and in particular its desire to see a greatly increased pace of change in this area and offered support to the senior leadership team in advancing this change. 


Preventing and Responding to Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Violence

An update on activity in preventing and responding to sexual violence and gender-based violence and the work of a University taskforce on the subject, now integrated into the Gender Equality Sub-Committee of the University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee, was reviewed. Work at the University is focused on better support for those affected, encouraging greater disclosure of incidents, and, culture change to reduce incidences.

Sexual violence, harassment, abuse, GBV


Students’ Association and Sports Union Reports

Ellen MacRae, Students’ Association President, presented reports from the Students’ Association and the Sports Union and introduced a brief video highlighting some of the many Welcome Week events held in Bristo Square. Over 25,000 visits to the ‘Gem’, a temporary covered outdoor space took place in Welcome Week. The Gem hosted student societies and sports club fairs and helped introduce first years and many second years new to Edinburgh to the campus. 

It was noted that difficulty in finding suitable and affordable private accommodation in Edinburgh is a serious concern for many students this year and could be exacerbated in coming years as current first year undergraduate students seek private accommodation for their subsequent years of study. The Association’s President asked that private accommodation availability be considered in thinking on the future size and shape of the University. 


Performance Measures to Support Strategy 2030

Performance measures to support engagement with, and measurement and delivery of, the University’s Strategy 2030 were considered and approved. It was noted that the intention is to establish baselines, recognising that the pandemic will have a disruptive effect on the stability of some of the measures, benchmark where possible and to embed the measures in the planning round as well as providing progress reports to Court and the University Executive.

Strategy 2030


People and Money System

A revised approach, plan and funding for the implementation of the People & Money System (the programme delivering the core IT system for HR, Finance, Payroll and Procurement) was approved. This includes new, fixed implementation deadlines for the remaining phases and revised governance and assurance, including a new Enactment Group to focus on implementation and oversee all aspects of the programme and the provision of external advice on a pro bono basis by systems change specialist Professor Anthony Finkelstein.

People and Money


Edinburgh BioQuarter: Update on Formalising Partnership Arrangements and Procurement of a Private Sector Partner

An update on plans to formalise partnership arrangements with Scottish Enterprise and the City of Edinburgh Council and to procure a private sector partner to assist in the development of a Health Innovation District at the BioQuarter site, Little France, was reviewed. Court supported the next stage of the project, including the formalisation of the partnership arrangements and the initiation of a public procurement process to select a private sector partner.

Future development of Edinburgh BioQuarter



Carbon Sequestration through Forests and Peatland

An update on plans to sequester carbon to offset unavoidable emissions associated with travel as an essential component of meeting the Strategy 2030 outcome of “We will be on track to be a Carbon-Zero University by 2040” was reviewed. A combination of land ownership and partnership with existing owners was proposed. Court supported the proposals and approved capital funding for the purchase of land for carbon sequestration with funding for the revenue elements of the plans to be factored into the University’s planning round for future years. 

Carbon Sequestration 

Other items

The Annual Report to the Scottish Funding Council on Institution-led Review and Enhancement Activity 2020/21 was approved. A lease for a secondary substation at the Advanced Computing Facility was 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 here: 

Court and its Committees