Posted tagged ‘RGU’

Universities and cultural regeneration

June 24, 2014

My university, Robert Gordon University, will today launch a major report on how to promote cultural regeneration in the North-East of Scotland. This report was produced by a working group I established last year, chaired by Professor Paul Harris of RGU’s Gray’s School of Art. What follows below is the Foreword I wrote for the report.

‘From the very earliest days of higher education history, universities have been centres of cultural engagement and development. Towns and cities grew around higher learning establishments, and the scholarship nurtured in the universities often provided the roots for local arts and culture. That is still largely true today: almost every city that has a major cultural offering also has world-class universities.

I take the view, as Principal of Robert Gordon University, that this institution has a special relationship with its city and its region, and that it must give expression to this through its contribution to local culture and through its leadership in debates about how that culture and creativity can be further enriched. It was with this in mind that I established the working group that has produced this very valuable report.

It is my hope that the assessment of our cultural future set out in this report, and the recommendations made therein, will provide a valuable contribution to the future of the North-East of Scotland more generally.

I am most grateful to Professor Paul Harris and to the team which produced this report. Moreover, on behalf of RGU I can give an undertaking that we will continue to work with the community of the North-East and with all other key stakeholders to ensure that together we can indeed create a new North.’

Universities have a responsibility to keep arts and culture alive. What RGU hopes and intends to do in the North-East of Scotland should be done by every university in every place. This allows us to be true to our intellectual mission, but also to give extra substance to the need for regional development and a good quality of life.

The RGU report sets out ten key findings and recommendations – more of which tomorrow.

The CBI, Scotland’s independence referendum and the universities

April 24, 2014

The following article was first published today by the Press and Journal, Aberdeen.

Universities play a key role in the community. They are engines of invention and innovation, and they are also spaces for debate in which all voices are recognized and encouraged. It is not always an easy role to play, and it gets most complex when issues being debated are controversial or in any way difficult. In a few months Scotland will be invited to take one of the most important decisions in several generations: whether it wishes to be an independent country. As one would expect, there are strong opinions on this question, and there is a robust campaign taking place leading up to the referendum itself.

Last weekend the campaign gained a new active participant: the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) registered with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of the No campaign. In doing so it created issues for at least some of its members: those who might favour a Yes vote, and those whose duty it is to remain neutral; this latter group includes the universities.

I have no doubt that this CBI decision was a wrong decision. It had previously expressed concerns about the impact of independence (as was perfectly appropriate), but declaring itself as partisan on the issue was something different, creating real problems for organisations that, also perfectly appropriately, hold a different view. We were not consulted before the decision was taken, but if I had been, I would have offered a robust opinion in the matter.

Some universities reacted to the CBI move by resigning immediately from membership. RGU took a different approach. While I immediately said that we disapproved of the CBI decision, I wanted us to reflect on how we could best deal with the problem that had arisen and that was not of our making. We are an industry-focused university, with many links and partnerships in the business community. Equally, we need to be sure that we are both remaining neutral in this important national debate, but that we also provide a safe space for both sides in the debate.

These are the principles that we will apply as we move to decide how we should respond to the CBI move. That is the duty we owe to our students, our friends and our partners in the wider community.

Subsequent to the publication of this article by the Press and Journal, and after extensive consultation, I decided that RGU will suspend its membership of the CBI, and will review the position after the Referendum.

Winter days

December 7, 2012

Winter has arrived in Aberdeen, and over the last few days we have had freezing cold temperatures and the first serious fall of snow. The scene below is the RGU campus in Garthdee, with Garthdee House in the background (where my office will be from spring 2013).

Garthdee, RGU, Aberdeen

Garthdee, RGU, Aberdeen

If you want to see a close up (and less wintry) photograph of Garthdee House, you can see one here.

RGU announces fees for students from the rest of the UK

September 23, 2011

As readers of this blog will know, there are no university tuition fees in Scotland for Scottish and EU students. However, in the light of the new fees régime in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and further in order to ensure that university places in Scotland are not placed under impossible pressure of demand from the rest of the UK, the Scottish government announced that universities can charge rest-of-UK students up to £9,000 p.a. from the academic year 2012-13.

Most Scottish universities have now announced their rest-of-UK fees, with a number of institutions opting for the £9,000 limit (though in the cases of Aberdeen University and Heriot Watt, these fees apply to three years only, with the final year free to those whose studies cover four years).

Today my own institution, Robert Gordon University, has made its rest-of-UK fees announcement, and we have decided to set fees in accordance with the actual cost of delivering the degrees. This means that we have set the fees in three bands, with fees ranging from £5,000 to £6,750, with one programme (Master of Pharmacy) having a fee of £8,500. Under this framework Scottish students do not subsidise students from the rest of the UK, and these in turn do not subsidise Scottish students; we regard this as a fair and transparent framework.

RGU will also announce a framework for scholarships, bursaries and student support for all students in due course.

Gaudeamus igitur

July 14, 2011

All this week Robert Gordon University is holding its summer graduation ceremonies. I have always enjoyed these events, in all of the universities at which I have worked. In Trinity College Dublin they were (and, I believe, are) entirely in Latin; and the Provost has no active role at all, and does not speak (in any language). The University of Hull matched TCD for formality, though in the vernacular; well, the sort-of vernacular, in the sense that there was no requirement to use the remarkably strange Hull accent.

The conferrings in DCU and RGU both have an interesting mix of the formal and informal, and both seem to me to work very well. Graduations are of course milestones in a student’s life, and should be celebrated in a dignified ceremony. But they should also reflect a sense of achievement and joy, and this is best expressed in some moments of informality and sheer good humour. It is n ot an easy balance to strike, but both universities do it well, and this is confirmed by unsolicited comments from graduates and their families and friends.

For those presiding (which in DCU was always me, and in RGU is either the Chancellor or me, taking it in turns), a key task is to shake avery graduating student’s hand. During my ten years as President of DCU, I believe I shook about 25,000 graduands’ hands. There is a slight physical strain involved, but some might wonder whether there is also a hygiene issue. On one occasion at a graduation a student being conferred refused to shake my hand, loudly explaining that he had hygiene-related concerns about doing so.

Did he have a point? Well – and I am grateful to this website for the reference – this has been the subject of some research in Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The researcher in question ‘got the idea for the project after years of attending the Bloomberg School’s graduations and wondering what would be growing on the dean’s hand at the end of the day.’ This was what he found:

‘Our study indicates when shaking hands, the rate of hand contamination among graduating students to be 100 times lower than the 17 percent rate observed among health workers caring for patients known to be colonized with MRSA. Reasons for the lower rate of contamination at graduations include the much briefer and less-extensive contact in a handshake and what we presume is a lower prevalence of MRSA in graduating students compared to hospital patients. Another reason may be that subsequent handshakes could remove pathogens acquired in an earlier handshake.’

And this is his very reassuring conclusion:

‘With a lower bound estimate of one bacterial pathogen acquired in 5,209 handshakes, the study offers the politicians, preachers, principals, deans and even amateur hand shakers some reassurance that shaking hands with strangers is not as defiling as some might think.’

As a semi-professional handshaker, with four more graduations to come this week, I shall embark upon my task with renewed confidence.

Changing places

March 18, 2011

Today, Friday March 18, is my last full day in Ireland before I travel to Scotland where, on Monday, I shall be taking up my post as Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. I am leaving the Irish higher education system just as it is going through some rather serious convulsions, most notably (but not exclusively) caused by the daft ‘employment control framework’. There are other challenges: the larger resourcing and funding question, the future shape of the sector, the autonomy of the universities, the degree to which rationalisation and restructuring is being pursued, the drive for a different model of employment terms and conditions for academic staff, the future of quality assurance in a new institutional structure yet to be properly established, and so forth.

I know that it is hard to be confident and optimistic in such a setting, but in fact many of the fundamentals of Irish higher education are still remarkably sound. Universities and colleges have managed to perform really well on much lower funding than what is available in our key competitor countries; Ireland’s academic research effort has grown exponentially over recent years and has contributed directly to the country’s growing success in attracting knowledge-intensive inward investment; the development of new intellectual property is growing; innovative new programmes of study are being rolled out; new technology-savvy learning methods are being pioneered. It is a resilient system, and in the end I believe it will overcome the obstacles. But those representing higher education need to be articulate and outspoken in defending its cause; not necessarily defending each and every thing that it does, because there is a need for some reform – but defending its importance and its potential for securing national recovery. Increasingly from a distance my own voice may not be so important, but for what it is worth this blog will continue to raise issues in Irish higher education, sometimes written by other contributors.

In moving to Scotland I shall encounter some similar issues and some that are different. I guess that funding issues are ones that come up everywhere right now, and Scotland certainly is no exception. Having nailed their colours to the mast of free higher education, the main political parties in Scotland are now grappling with how to make that affordable, and some rather curious ideas are now being mooted, such as the idea of charging EU students (and English ones, as is already the case), but not Scottish ones. This almost certainly cannot be dome within the terms of EU law. In the meantime funding cuts have placed strong pressures on the universities, some of whom are having to reduce costs significantly and with some dramatic consequences.  The question of whether universities are autonomous or are bodies that need to reflect government priorities has also been a live issue. But overall there is still, I believe, a reasonable degree of self-confidence in the system and a willingness on the part of politicians to give the university sector a high priority.

As I move from Ireland to Scotland, I cannot help feeling that, both as countries and as higher education sectors, we have many common interests, opportunities and problems. I hope that I shall be able to witness and perhaps stimulate some new connections between both jurisdictions. There is much to be gained from that.


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