Director of Sport announces retirement plan

Jim Aitken MBE, Director of Sport at the University of Edinburgh has announced that he will retire from the role that he has held for over 20 years, at the end of 2022.

A powerful advocate for the benefits of sport and active health and the ways it can change lives and make world better place, Jim’s impact cannot be overstated.

Director of Sport Jim Aitken receives MBE

Jim joined the University from sportscotland in 1995 initially as Assistant Director of Sport & Exercise.  He was appointed to the post of Director in 2001 becoming the sixth to hold the position since the University formed a ‘department of physical education’ in 1929.  Throughout his tenure Jim’s vision, drive and leadership have energised generations of students and staff to achieve success. In 2010 his services to student sport were recognised with an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list, adding to other prestigious accolades he’s received for outstanding contribution to HE Sport in the UK, including the AD Munrow Award and Bernie Ryder Prize.   

A legacy of success

Over the past two decades, Jim has orchestrated an unrelenting commitment to improve facilities, services and programmes in order to optimise the opportunities, quality and profile of sport and physical activity at the University.

Jim’s legacy of success is clear. He has built a committed, energetic, positive and highly capable team and excellent relationships across our University and beyond

Dr Catherine MartinVice-Principal, Corporate Services

During his time as Director, the University has supported countless talented athletes to success on the World, Olympic and Commonwealth stage including Olympic greats, Dame Katharine Grainger, Sir Chris Hoy and Dr Polly Swann. In 2008 Jim played a pivotal role in the inauguration of the University’s Sports Hall of Fame, which honours the University’s most distinguished sportsmen and women. Since then 44 outstanding individuals have been inducted.

Director of Sport Jim Aiken with Chris Hoy

His passion, sage decision making and strategic vision for student sport have also enabled Edinburgh to rise and finish consistently in the top four of the British University and College Sport league table.  This has positioned the University as one of the top destinations for talented student athletes to choose when seeking to realise their sporting ambitions along-side a world class degree education.

Group photo of Jim Aitken with Performance Athletes

Jim has also overseen a transformational improvement in the sport and fitness facilities on offer to the University community.  His strategic approach to facility improvements has seen a monumental growth in levels of participation in both personal fitness and sport, making Edinburgh one of the most physically active Universities in the UK.  This was marked in 2019 when Sport & Exercise was awarded the Best UK Facility, in the Education category, at the National Fitness Awards.

Director of Sport Jim Aiken kicking a rugby ball at 3G pitch opening

All of this is testimony to Jim’s leadership, judgement and business acumen.

A passion for people

Perhaps Jim’s foremost attribute is his passion for, and commitment to, the students and staff of the University. His progressive commitment to staff development, engagement, inclusion and well-being is clear. Under his leadership, Sport & Exercise became the first UK University department accredited to Investors in People top-level Platinum (high performing).

Director of Sport Jim Aiken speaking at a conference

He also has led the way in building relationships, and the creation of strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships, with National Governing Bodies and other organisations from across the UK and beyond. This work has cemented the University’s position as a valued and outward facing partner for other sporting organisations.

Being the Director of Sport & Exercise at the University has been an extraordinary privilege and honour.  It has been a total joy for me to connect over the years with so many gifted students and staff, and this will remain my most precious and enduring memory from my tenure as Director.  To each and every one of you, thank you for making my time so special.  I will be forever in your debt.

Jim Aitken MBEDirector Sport & Exercise


The University has engaged recruitment specialist Perrett Laver to support the search to find his successor, which will be framed under a refreshed job title of:  Director of Sport & Active Health.  This process will commence immediately in the hope of the new post-holder can be in place by January 2023.