The second year of my three year term as Rector, came to an end in March 2020.
Reflecting on 2019 in this role now seems very long ago, as so much has changed for everyone. However, it is important to do so, and, as in the first year, I was welcomed across campuses and at numerous events, being given the opportunity to contribute, and to learn more about the University of Edinburgh.
Highlights for me included being asked to speak at the opening of the Conectando exhibition in April in the Main Library, marking 100 years since the establishment of the University of Edinburgh’s Spanish degree; attending the Blues and Colours Sports celebration in the Playfair Library in May; the summer and autumn graduations; learning more about All4Paws and assisting in finding storage space for the veterinary supplies needed; and coming across the commemorative plaque in George Square Gardens for Mrs Ivy Georgina Larmond-Palmer, one of the Windrush Generation, placed there by Sir Geoff Palmer.
Taking that last example first – the University of Edinburgh is located on several campuses. All include lovely green spaces, open to all, and providing much needed quieter and reflective moments when needed. During 2019 I was able to visit more areas, and would encourage greater appreciation of, and use, by the wider community as well as our own students and staff. I am aware that approach is contained within the plans for the Edinburgh Futures Institute, and appreciated an update from Lesley McAra on that, in April 2019.
Back in George Square, finding the tribute to Mrs Ivy Larmond-Palmer also gave me cause to reflect on the ways in with we record and value the lives of women. There may not be massive monuments, but there are many ways in which the University campuses do include acknowledgement and recognition for women. Sometimes we just need to look and listen more carefully.
The Medical School graduations on 6th July included conferring honorary posthumous MBChB degrees on the Edinburgh seven, the first female medical students admitted to a UK university when enrolled in 1869. In his speech that day, the Principal commended but also acknowledged there were more than seven women to be remembered, and work is ongoing to continue to identify the families with this historical connection.
My mother, Jean Henderson (nee Wagstaff) gained her degree in Hispanic Studies at University of Edinburgh in 1950. She loved her time at University, and returned to teach here for the bulk of her working life, devising the Spanish 1A course in the early 1960s, still taught today. Some of her photographs and papers were included in the Conectando exhibition, and her accounts of her year abroad in Spain in 1947/48 convey both the social and economic pressures of the time, but also her enthusiasm for the language and that experience of the year abroad as part of her studies. My thanks go to all who enabled this to be included, and I was proud to see my mother to be recognised 150 years after the enrolment of those first female students.
Visits to different departments and Schools over the year included: School of Engineering at Kings Buildings; Sports facilities at Peffermill; refurbished Edinburgh College of Art main building; ECA Degree Show; Business School events including a ‘Blair Years’ panel discussion; and EPCC out past Easter Bush.
I have maintained regular contact with the Graduates Association, and was pleased to be asked to speak at the annual Dinner, held in the Playfair on 13 March. It was an entertaining discussion as I explored some of the transferable skills from my time working in the railway industry. The Christmas lunch held at Pollok Halls was another enjoyable occasion.
The General Council meets twice yearly (February and June). The Rector chairs these meetings. Under the guidance of Professor Ann Smyth, ably supported by Alison MacLeary, a number of changes are being trialled. General Council meetings are now livestreamed, which is allowing our graduates from around the world to listen in, but also to pose questions to the Principal.
The 15th June meeting was themed ‘The University of Edinburgh and Africa:Past, Present and Future’ Exhibitions and a panel discussion gave General Council members a chance to find out more about different projects at the University.
One of my most special memories of that day has to be listening to Ifeanyichukwu Stephen Ezinmadu, playing the piano in the McEwan Hall, which was absolutely beautiful. Ifeanyichukwu, from Nigeria, is on the MasterCard Foundation programme.
University Court meets five times a year. The Rector chairs the University Court meetings. The preparation takes up some time, with substantial reports to go through, and additional preparatory meetings with senior management, the trade unions, and the two EUSA members of Court. The Court papers are published in the main, on the University website. Concerns flagged during my first year over insufficient awareness and communication with the whole University community with regard to Court decisions have not yet been addressed satisfactorily.
I’m grateful for the support of Court members, and was pleased to have served beside David Bentley, Robert Black, Edward Bowen, Alan Brown, Ritchie Walker.
Matters considered by Court during 2019 included: Brexit; capital project priorities; confirming next stage of Kings Buildings nucleus development; extension of Advanced Computing Facility Easter Bush; City Deal and DDI; partnership with Shanghai Jiao Tong University (Low Carbon college); agreement with Government of Gujarat over establishment of Gujarat Biotechnology University; Student Experience Action Plan updates; simplification of Undergraduate Access Scholarships; consultation and publication of the Strategic Plan 2030;
Court governance review; appointment of Colm Harmon VP Students; and the annual accounts and financial report.
The December 2019 meeting took place during some of the UCU strike days. I had hoped through discussion with the UCU Branch Committee to be able to work out how best the Rector could be supportive of the UCU members in dispute, but this proved difficult for various reasons. On the day of the December Court meeting I therefore gave my apologies to the Court members for my absence, having respected the picket line at Old College, but I have continued to raise the union’s concerns when possible.
The Rector is elected by students and staff, and regular contact with the whole university community is important to me. I am happy to hear from individuals, from reps, or through the formal structures. Along with all Court members, I work within the framework provided by the University’s Dignity and Respect policy, and expect everyone in the wider University community to do the same.
EUSA sabbatical officers in January 2019 advised me in a statement that they were unable to work with me unless certain conditions were met. This reduced the contact I had with the EUSA campaigns and priorities during 2019.
However, within Court meetings the EUSA Court members are fully involved, and, at my suggestion, the Court meeting agenda now gives the EUSA report higher priority, alongside the Student Experience report, including also a report from the Sports Union.
Issues raised directly with me in 2019 by individual staff and students included:
- Living Wage and EUSA contracts
- UCU pay and pensions dispute
- Safety, and littering, on the Meadows
- Support for estranged students
- Community grants
- More flexibility over fees payments for Masters course (widening access)
- Improving information for students with disability on campus
- Safety of organisers, speakers and participants attending events on campus
- Specific concerns around the Women’s Sex-based Rights meeting June 2019, and safety of speakers
- Freedom of speech
- Support for senior level women’s network on campus
- International student queries re courses, conferences, and visas
- Student parent support
Other events attended included:
- Presentation of the Sustainability Awards 28 March in St Cecilia’s Hall
- Balfour Declaration event in George Square Theatre, and subsequent meeting with Professor Tony Gorman
- Diversity and Inclusion Knowledge Exchange – PHD student Ashlee Kristofferson.
I was pleased to be able to chair a session.
- UCU screening of the award-winning film ‘Nae Pasaran’. Joined the post-film discussion panel, along with the film Director and friend, Felipe Bustos Sierra
- EUSA Teaching Awards 25 April
- Speaking at UCU Queen Margaret University Branch event ‘Trade Unions and Cooperatives: towards an Alternative University’ 1st May.
- Academic Senate, held at Little France 29 May
- Panel discussion on ‘Women’s Sex-based Rights “Women’s Sex-Based Rights: What Does (& Should) the Future Hold’ 5 June, 50 George Square.
- Edinburgh University Festivals Reception Playfair Library
- James Tait Prize awards at the Traverse August 2019
- Performance Sports Lunch Pleasance September 2019
- Welcome Week EUSA fair
- Menopause Café in the 50 George Square
- Student /staff parent support group in CMB
- Met with Professor Salter to discuss Marine Cloud Brightening
- Second anniversary event for Gender:Ed held in Informatics Forum 21 Oct
- Met with Tom Cunningham re the UncoverEd project
- International Year of the Periodic Table (IYPT 2019) light show George Square
- Book launch Jackie Guilland ‘ Navigating Troubled waters – Women in Social Work Education in Scotland’
- 50-50 Women Direct campaign – launch event for the Scottish Documentary Institute
- Ancestral remains being returned to homeland of Sri Lankan tribespeople was a very moving event
- I loved this artwork project symbolising and celebrating health and social science
- Represented the University at the following Services at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh:
- 27 Oct Academic Service (at which the Principal was speaking)
10 Nov Remembrance Day Service
1 Dec St Andrew’s Day Service
- 27 Oct Academic Service (at which the Principal was speaking)
Another busy year for the Rector – I’m still learning about the complexities of such a large institution, but have thoroughly enjoyed meeting many of those working so hard in the interests of students, staff, and the University of Edinburgh community worldwide. 2020 has brought very different challenges, to which we all are adjusting.
If you wish to bring anything to my attention or have any questions, I can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.