Nearly a year ago, I was approached by members of the trade unions on campus, to consider running for Rector of the University of Edinburgh.
I was surprised and pleased to be asked, very unsure as to whether I should accept, and not particularly sure what a Rector does.
One year on, and I’ve learned so much. It has been a privilege to have worked with, and met, so many students and staff during the election campaign in February 2018, and since I took up office in March 2018.
A key formal responsibility of the Rector is to chair the University Court. The Court is the governing body of the University, with a remit that includes the administration and management of the whole revenue and property of the university.
I have had a lot to learn, and chairing meetings competently requires thorough preparation. There have been full meetings of Court in April, June, October and December.
Court members come from different backgrounds and bring different perspectives, all also working on Committees covering all the functions within the University, which prepare the Court meetings.
Many of the papers for the meetings appear online so everyone can find out more. We have been discussing how to better communicate and share Court decisions, with which I’m keen to assist.
Other more formal duties in my role as Rector have included attending some of the July and November graduations.
Being asked to say a few words at a couple of these has given me much to think about, and it’s been inspiring to see the graduates and their families celebrating achievement.
The Honorary Degree recipients have given amazing speeches, and each time I have left knowing something new about the far-reaching impact of time spent at the University.
Presenting one of the Sustainability Awards in March 2018 was a great introduction to the range of initiatives jointly undertaken by staff and students, and I was delighted to see that in November Edinburgh University received the Sustainability Institution of the Year Award at the UK’s ‘Green Gown’ Awards.
Elected by students and staff, and with the endorsement of the Joint Union Committee on campus, I have kept in touch with the trade union reps and attend the JULC meetings prior to the court meetings.
The UCU pensions dispute continued into March, with strike days and picket lines to attend.
Following the EUSA sabbatical officer elections, I set up meetings on a monthly basis from September 2018, with the EUSA sabbatical team. This allowed for updates on each officer’s campaign priorities, and for me to share any information that had been brought to the rector by other students.
The outgoing sabbatical team made me welcome at the EUSA Activities awards and the EUSA Teaching Awards ceremonies in April. Both of these events were so optimistic and enthusiastic, demonstrating just how much effort goes in to the University community itself, and in the city more widely.
I attended the EUSA Activities Fair during Welcome Week in September, and the Sports Union Fair, again experiencing a warm welcome and an introduction to so many new clubs and activities.
The Sports Union had invited me to go along in May to the EU Hockey Women’s tournament at Peffermill, which I enjoyed very much. In December I was given a tour of the Sports facilities at the Pleasance, and I’ll be working with the Sports Union to encourage greater involvement, whether as a participant or a spectator.
The University has of course changed greatly since I was a student in the 1970s. With over 40,000 students it is four times larger for a start.
I have not yet been to all parts of the university, which probably is a project in and of itself, but I am grateful to those staff who have taken time to show me round so far.
These visits have included:
- An introduction to the Bayes Centre and some background on the world-leading data science and artificial intelligence work there
- The amazing Centre for Research Collections in the George Square University Library;
- The University Chaplaincy
- The Advice Place
- Scottish Documentary Institute
- Easter Bush Science Outreach Centre
- And the Kings Building campus
Some of my other engagements during the year have included:
- Meeting with the Graduates Association
- Speaking at an Institute for International Cultural Relations seminar
- Celebrating the Place2Be partnership with Moray House School of Education
- Sharing views on the closure of the Woodlands Residential Centre and meeting Moray House Education staff to hear more on the Learning and Teaching Policies and residential learning experiences
- The Scottish Feminist Judgements Project
- Celebration of Global Surgery in the Chancellor’s Building at Little France
- And attending events at the Edinburgh International Festivals, including the Edinburgh Book Festival
The Book Festival event supported by the University with the world renowned Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o has stayed in my mind, a challenging and interesting session.
Contributions from Mastercard Foundation Scholars programme international students were included at the post-talk reception. The poem written and read by Vanessa Ombura, 3rd year Civil Engineering student, held everyone’s attention, a special moment as Ngugi wa Thiong’o joined the event.
Other external events included the Visible Girls Revisited and Invisible Girls exhibition in the winter at Summerhall, a collaborative project with photographer Anita Corbyn, Historic Environment Scotland, and the Year of Young People in Scotland. Participants included students, past and present, from Edinburgh University too.
Students and staff have contacted the Rector individually on a number of matters, such as:
- Student and staff parent support
- Work restrictions and visas
- International student post graduate fees
- Equality, respect, and freedom of speech on campus
- Accommodation policy
- The increase in casual contracts
In October the official installation of Rector ceremony took place. My thanks go to all who made the event feel as inclusive as possible, and for friends and family to be able to get a sense of the life of the University, and its place in wider society.
The year ahead includes the consequences of a changing relationship with the European Union, the Edinburgh City Deal, and the further development of campuses including at the Bio Quarter and the Futures Institutes.
The Africa conference and the centenary year of the Department of Hispanic Studies are two of the events on campus already of particular interest to me, and I’m looking forward to continuing the exploratory visits to more of the University sites.
These visits and meetings are important for me to better understand the complexities of such a large and diverse institution, which all helps with chairing the University Court meetings too.
So do please get in touch if you would like to introduce me to the work of your department, project, or campaigning activity.
Monthly reports of my meetings and engagements will be posted up, and information from the Rector circulated more widely throughout the University community.
‘Meet the Rector’ events are being scheduled, and do please get in touch directly if that is more appropriate.