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Head’s blog

Aberdeen University Visit

During the month of October I will have had the chance to visit all the countries within the United Kingdom, with Belfast last week, Aberdeen this week and Cardiff coming up over half term.

Travelling away from London has forced me to look at a wider set of issues than those specific to the Foundation: the HMC conference at Belfast was focused on educational initiatives from around the world whilst the trip to Aberdeen University drew attention to the challenges facing the higher education sector.

You may not know that Aberdeen University was set up in 1495, making it Scotland’s third oldest university and the fifth oldest in the UK. Initially it was set up to train doctors, teachers and clergy for the communities of northern Scotland, and lawyers and administrators to serve the Scottish Crown.

Today it teaches a wide range of subjects but can boast of real success in;

  • Biology, molecular biology and pharmacology, which are ranked first equal for student satisfaction in the UK
  • Civil engineering, physical geography, cinematics and photography, ranked first equal for teaching quality
  • And being in the top 30 universities in the world for theology, religious studies and divinity according to QS World University rankings

Whilst there are some beautiful old buildings within Old Aberdeen, our meeting was housed in the splendid new Sir Duncan Rice Library, a great modern building which complements the splendour of the University’s 500 year old campus.

The discussion within our meeting was both about the offer of the university but also about the future. The city of Aberdeen has had to face a significant down turn in the oil industry and, inevitably, in the money flowing into the area. The university was keen to indicate its ability to reinvent itself.

At the same time, Scottish universities are having to make sense of the dilemma of funding their work whilst different political agendas about student fees being played out in England and Scotland. And in addition to these challenges, all universities are needing to make sense of the impact of Brexit on cross European research and funding.

I returned to London more aware of the challenges which we all face within the coming months as Brexit looms, the impact that technology is already having on the range of graduate jobs, and also of the rapidly changing global educational competitors who are seeking to attract our students at university level. Whilst these are challenging issues, I was very grateful to be part of these discussions, even if it took a trip to the far North to discuss these! We need to make sure that we are able to be as responsive as Aberdeen as these new developments take shape.