Speech

Alumni update from University Court December 2021

Updated on 10 December 2021

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As a nominated member of the University Court and member of the Graduates’ Association, Jane Marshall acts as an intermediary between graduates and the University Court.

“University Court met remotely on 27 April 2021 and in person on 2 September and 16 November 2021. The September Court meeting was followed by the annual Court Retreat. This was even more important than usual, partly because some members of Court had not met on a personal basis due to the pandemic but mainly because the principal issue for discussion was the new University strategy designed to shape the University’s future over the coming years, equipping it to meet new challenges and to take advantage of new opportunities. In addition, the Court held a virtual meeting with the Scottish Funding Council.

The meetings held in person allowed the simultaneous virtual participation of a small number of members who would otherwise have been unable to attend. The ‘mixed meeting’ format worked well, and our IT team are to be congratulated. In person meetings are the best option, but the additional flexibility is very welcome.

The appointment of our new Principal, Professor Iain Gillespie, has meant that the University can start to move ahead after the shocks occasioned by rapid changes in leadership and the financial and social impacts of the pandemic. The new University strategy is an important part of this. A substantial amount of work and engagement with Court members in advance of the Court Retreat meant that discussions were informed and fruitful. Consultation on the strategy with Senate, staff and students was launched at the end of September and has included open ‘town hall ‘meetings, focus groups and a Sharepoint website. It is expected that the consultation will be complete before Christmas.

The draft strategy affirms the University’s ‘triple intensity’ -its work in teaching, research, and engagement with the wider world. The University’s key priorities will be to deliver academic excellence and sustainability, growing our reach in education through widening access, increasing international recruitment, and transforming the University to be truly digital. These broad themes are underpinned by more detailed plans including an evidence-based review into our academic offering. A reinvigorated new School, the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law will come into being in August 2022. The new Principal has also brought renewed focus to discrimination issues within the university. An application has been submitted for the award of the Race Equality Charter, and Court is renewing its efforts to more fully reflect the diversity of the University’s staff and students.

Given the scale of the University’s ambitions, the Court has also had to pay close attention to financial matters. The underfunding of the University over several years (see earlier Updates) means that the University’s ability to withstand unexpected financial headwinds is limited. Defined benefit pension arrangements, such as UODSS (the staff pension scheme) and USS (the academics’ pension scheme) pose a significant risk in this context, with concerns about the sustainability of USS in its current form widely shared among university employers, and proposals for change being tabled to both schemes. Industrial action in response has taken place over the autumn in relation to UODSS and USS. While efforts have been made to reduce the impact on students, and discussions continue about workable solutions, this has been a difficult period for everyone, not least because the effects of the pandemic continue to be felt. The new variant of the virus which has emerged very recently has the potential to cause further disruption.

The University continues to contribute to the wider world. Its spin-out, Exscientia, now listed on the US stock exchange Nasdaq, is a pioneer in artificial intelligence driven drug discovery. Dundee is currently the 6th most successful UK university in turning innovation into something that can be used commercially. The recent COP26 summit in Glasgow enabled the University to bring important work being undertaken on climate change and the environment, such as research on Iceland’s glaciers, to a wider audience. It was also an opportunity to engage with graduates of the University who are working in COP26 relevant fields or who have incorporated sustainability or climate change into their work. The proposed creations of a new Eden Project on the site of the city’s former gasworks and civic backing for the Michelin Scotland Innovation Parc illustrate the potential for the University, the region, and the wider community alike.

Court is confident that, whatever the short-term difficulties, the University will prosper. It believes that the direction of travel outlined in the draft Strategy (feedback on which has to date been largely positive) is the right one and looks forward to the final agreement of the Strategy and debating and overseeing its implementation.”

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