Court Minutes 22 February 2023
Confirmed minutes of the meeting of the University Court held at 3.00 pm on 22 February 2023 in the Boardroom, Queen Margaret University.
|Court Members||Court Members|
|Pamela Woodburn (Chair)||Melanie Moreland|
|Professor Richard Butt||Jacqueline Morrison|
|Julie Churchill||Aasiyah Patankar|
|Karen Cullen||Robert Pattullo|
|Louise Ford||Sarah Phillips|
|Dr Maria Giatsi-Clausen||Elizabeth Porter|
|Sir Paul Grice||Dr Andrew Scott|
|Professor John Harper||Garvin Sealy|
|Steven Hendry||Carol Sinclair|
|Dr Kavi Jagadamma||Guy Smith|
|Staff members in attendance||Role|
|Malcolm Cutt||Director of Finance and Corporate Strategic Development|
University Secretary (Secretary)
Deputy Director, Campus Services
Head of Strategic Planning and Policy Development
Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement (Minute Secretary)
Director of Campus Development and Operations
|Dr Sara Smith||
Acting Dean, Health Sciences
Professor David Stevenson
Dean, Arts, Social Sciences and Management
1. Welcome and Memebership
The Chair welcomed members to the meeting of the University Court. Particular welcome was extended to Bill Stronach, Student Funding Adviser, who was attending his first meeting following his appointment by the Joint Trade Unions to represent the support staff of the University.
Apologies for absence were noted for Janet Archer, Dr Arturo Langa and James Miller.
2. Conflicts of Interest
There were no conflicts of interest declared.
3. Determination of other Competent Business
There was no other Competent Business identified.
4. Minutes of the Previous Meeting
4.1 Minutes of the previous meeting
The unconfirmed minutes of the Court meeting held on 30 November 2022 (paper Court (22) MINS 05) were APPROVED as an accurate record.
4.2 Matters arising
There were no matters arising from the minutes.
5. Chair's Report
The Chair updated members on the meetings she had attended, and the numerous activities in which she had been engaged on members’ behalf since the last meeting of the Court.
Members were advised that good progress had been made in terms of scheduling meetings with individual lay members under the annual member appraisal arrangements. An update would come to a future meeting.
In terms of internal engagement, the Chair continued to meet regularly with the Principal and with the University Secretary. Particular thanks were extended to the Secretary for support in progressing a number of projects, including the Stakeholder Engagement event being held after the meeting.
Arrangements for the Court Strategy Day on 26 April 2023 were progressing well, with the event providing an important opportunity to focus on institutional progress with matters discussed and agreed at the previous Strategy Day. Consideration would be given to opportunities for further strategic discussion towards the end of the calendar year.
The Chair reported on her attendance at the recent student performance, ‘On the Razzle’, which she had enjoyed enormously, and which had displayed student energy and creativity, including in costume design. Members were reminded by the Dean of School of their open invitation to attend such events.
The next meeting of the Chairs of Scottish Courts (CSC) would be hosted by Robert Gordon University on 8 March 2023. The Chair looked forward to networking with other Chairs and to hearing from the Chair of the Scottish Funding Council, Mike Cantlay OBE, who would be attending the meeting.
6. Principal's Report
The Principal provided a report on developments since the last meeting of the University Court (paper Court (23) 01), highlighting the following matters in particular:
6.1 Context and Scottish budget
The national context remained broadly unchanged since the Principal’s previous report terms of inflationary and associated pressure on public finances. The outlook for the UK economy remained as reported previously ie little or no growth this year, with a resultant impact on public funding. The Scottish Government had presented its budget for 2023-24 to Parliament on 15 December 2022, with the HE sector receiving an uplift in cash terms of about 1%. This represented a significant cut in real terms. Allocations to universities were not yet available, but the medium term assumption was a flat cash settlement at best. More positively, the UK government had announced an additional £450m for research funding across the UK, which had resulted in a proportionate rise in the research funding in Scotland. QMU’s share of this was £77k.
6.2 Student numbers
Student numbers for Session 2022-23 were covered more fully through the financial and KPI updates (papers Court (23) 02 and (23) 03). Broadly speaking, home student numbers were slightly below target, but RUK and international numbers were above target, bringing overall student numbers above target. There had been a significant increase in the international postgraduate intake in January 2023, and the Principal extended his thanks to colleagues for their support for this cohort.
In terms of recruitment for 2023-24, there were clear indications that undergraduate recruitment through UCAS would be challenging for many programmes. The latest UCAS analysis of applications across the sector in the current cycle reported that applications were down overall, with a notable decline in the number of Scottish domiciled applicants. The Scottish Funding Council was engaging with universities in terms of the potential impact on funded numbers. Despite the challenges, the Principal expressed confidence that the University would meet its funded places allocation, noting the significant ongoing work in respect of recruitment, conversion and admissions.
Under this item, clarification was sought on retention rates and specifically whether the University was experiencing a dip in retention following the larger than usual intakes during the pandemic. In response the University Secretary confirmed that higher than usual withdrawal rates had been reported. Various interventions were in progress locally, with central oversight of retention data and initiatives progressing under the auspices of the Widening Participation and Student Retention Board.
6.3 Online Programme Development (OPD) and Transnational Education (TNE)
The seven programmes developed in partnership with Higher Ed Partners (HEP) were due to commence on 6 March 2023, marketing having gone live in November 2022. Feedback from HEP in relation to applications received suggested that the programmes being provided were attractive in the current market. As envisaged, the cohort size for the initial modules would be relatively modest, but the structure of the carousel model of delivery was such that numbers were expected to increase quite quickly. The Deputy Principal again took the opportunity to thank academic and professional services staff for their engagement with the HEP project, and important contribution towards net tuition fee income.
Growth in TNE represented another route for increasing off-campus net tuition fee income. The Principal was pleased to report that the University had approved the business and academic case for three new partnerships between the University’s Division of Business, Enterprise and Management and institutions in India, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan. In parallel, there were ongoing discussions regarding other potential new major TNE partners.
6.4 Pay Award 2023-2024 and industrial action
As reported previously, employers had implemented the pay award for 2022-23 in the absence of agreement. Strike action planned for 21, 22 and 23 February had been suspended, but further strike dates were scheduled for March 2023. On behalf of the Senior Leadership Team (SLT), the Principal expressed the strong view that students should not be penalised because of this national dispute, noting the SLT priority to minimise disruption at the University. He reiterated that, in consideration on pay issues, the SLT sought to strike a balance between being fair to colleagues in terms of pay and benefits and ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the University.
6.5 Future Spaces and digitalisation
The Future Spaces project was progressing well. Stage one of the project had concluded, offering a range of potential options under the three work streams: Specialist Space, Learning Resource Centre, and Workspaces and Offices. Following consideration and prioritisation by SLT, more detailed proposals and costings were being progressed.
There had also been good progress in relation to delivering Digital Transformation within QMU. An initial workshop, facilitated by JISC, had focussed on the key themes of student experience, staff experience, data analytics, and systems and process efficiencies. A second workshop was planned to refine further the programme of work. SLT had also agreed to initiate a Digital Steering Group to take ownership of delivery of the work streams, initially focussing on data and potentially a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system.
6.6 Finance system
Having reviewed and considered the options available for a replacement finance system, the Senior Leadership Team (SLT) had approved the purchase of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) by Unit 4, with the new system programmed to be in operation by August 2024. SLT had considered particularly the allocation of appropriate project resources to implement the new system. This was in recognition that the replacement of the finance system would be taking place alongside pre-existing corporate activity and projects, and that the incoming Director of Finance would be relatively new to the University.
6.7 Cost of living/mental health crisis
The Cost of Living Working Group established by the University Secretary continued to meet to identify and oversee the implementation of initiatives to mitigate the effects of the cost of living and associated mental health crisis. QMU’s Thank Goodness It’s Thursday (TGIT) events were continuing this semester with the support of QMU’s Chancellor, Prue Leith, as reported in the East Lothian Courier. Disappointingly, the Scottish Funding Council had confirmed on 22 December 2022 that funding for mental health counsellors, provided in recognition of the need for such support, would cease. Universities Scotland continued to lobby on behalf of the sector for long-term counsellor support as an essential component of the Scottish Government’s Student Mental Health Action Plan.
The difficulties faced by applicants and students seeking accommodation continued to be reported widely in the media. The Principal and the President (Academic Life) had taken part recently in an event at the Scottish Parliament that had helpfully provided students from a range of universities with the opportunity to offer their perspectives. The Principal had also discussed a regional approach with fellow Edinburgh university Principals and with the leaders of Edinburgh and East Lothian Councils. The matter had also been raised with the Minister for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government.
The Principal was delighted to announce the appointment of Andrea Saunders as Director of Finance (with effect from 13 March 2023) and the appointment of Dr Sara Smith as Acting Dean of the School of Health Sciences, following Professor Fiona Coutts’s retirement in January 2023.
7. Finance and Key Performance Indicators
7.1 Financial performance and updated forecast outturn position
Court RECEIVED an update on financial performance for the six months to 31 January 2023, and the updated forecast outturn position (paper Court (23) 02).
Introducing the paper, the Director of Finance and Corporate Strategic Development advised that the quarter two review continued to forecast a breakeven position for the year, although there had been increases in forecast levels of both income and expenditure, informed in part by year to date variances.
Additional income sources included an increase in Scottish Funding Council grant allocation and income from summer letting, accommodation and conferences. Interest received had also been higher than forecast due to rising interest rates. The position in relation to tuition fees from the semester two intake in January remained uncertain. As the Principal had reported earlier in the meeting, international student numbers in semester two of 2022-23 were significantly higher than anticipated, meaning that the resultant estimate for tuition fees was currently around £500k higher than forecast. However, a significant proportion of the additional entrants were from two countries in West Africa, and it had become apparent that many of these students were struggling to access funding from their country of domicile to pay their fees. Accordingly, there was no increase in the tuition fee forecast for the year from the originally budgeted level at this point in the year.
Additional expenditure included staff costs, including a one-off cost of living payment to staff in November which had increased costs by around £200k, acceleration of the 2023-24 pay award to February 20023, and additional costs of agency staff and market supplements (predominantly in IT). The depreciation charge for the year had also increased, reflecting the increase in property value following the recent valuation of the estate.
The high-level quarterly cash flow forecast showed the projected cash flows from operating activities, capital expenditure and loan repayments. The forecast showed cash balances remaining comfortably above £5 million as required by the Barclays’ loan covenant.
Responding to a particular question about tracking research income, the Deputy Principal advised that this was difficult within the constraints of an annual budget, given that many research projects spanned two or more years. However, it was sometimes possible to update research income between quarters and a successful research funding application could have a significant positive impact on the overall position.
7.2 Second quarter KPI report
Court RECEIVED the second quarter Key Performance Indicators (KPI) report (paper Court (23) 03).
Introducing the paper, the Head of Strategic Planning and Policy Development reported that there were no matters of serious concern to highlight to the Court. The narrative accompanying the KPI spreadsheet provided commentary on student numbers and tuition fees income in line with that reported earlier under the Principal’s report (paper Court (23) 01) and in the updated forecast outturn position (paper Court (23) 02).
Other matters detailed in the narrative concerned the admission of students from under-represented groups. The percentage of students from SIMD20 postcodes remained slightly below baseline, reflecting a number of factors affecting the HE sector in Scotland as a whole. The percentage of HN students admitted with advanced standing had fallen significantly below target, but was recovering. As reported previously, an important factor influencing direct entry to programmes was the availability of places. Direct entry to third year was restricted in some subjects due to the larger than planned first year intake in 2020-21 arising from the SQA grading issue during the pandemic. Rates of deferrals from college applicants had also affected the number of direct entrants.
A specific query was raised in respect of the number of Innovation Vouchers accessed, which had fallen markedly below target during the pandemic. In response, the Deputy Principal advised that Innovation Vouchers were just one of a number of complementary funding sources, and that it might be beneficial to adjust the KPI target to reflect the cumulative impact of income streams.
The Head of Strategic Planning and Policy Development confirmed that the format and presentation of KPIs remained under review with a view to establishing whether the KPI reports remained useful and meaningful for the Court. Operational Planning arrangements were also under review to align initiatives more closely with institutional objectives.
Members looked forward to the Strategy Day discussions around the future development of KPI reporting. Noting that there was a lag in some KPI reporting, the suggestion was put forward that Court might benefit from more timely updates, where possible, for example in the format of a live dashboard. This could enhance oversight of progress in addition to members receiving the quarterly outcomes.
The Principal advised that he would welcome further exploration and challenge from Court members in respect of the University’s aspirations and potential growth scenarios over a five to ten year planning horizon. The challenges reported in relation to undergraduate home recruitment brought into sharp relief the importance of diversification, reinforcing the University’s strategy for measured expansion into TNE and other markets. At the Strategy Day, it was planned that members would receive an update on the outcomes from an externally facilitated portfolio review exercise that would inform Academic Planning Board decisions. In parallel, the SLT had established a Vision Development Group to consider the wider context of employability and other factors influencing the optimal subject mix.
7.3 Future financial projections
Members RECEIVED a paper on future financial projections (paper Court (23) 04).
The Director of Finance and Corporate Strategic Development explained that the paper provided an update on the medium and longer-term financial outlook for the University. It had been developed as a precursor to a fuller discussion at the Court Strategy Day, prior to which the Finance and Estates Committee would have the opportunity to review and to contribute to a further iteration.
The budget and financial forecasts approved by the University Court in June 2022 showed a broadly breakeven position throughout the period forward to 2026-27. Since June 2022, the increase in inflation and associated factors meant that the forecast net income would have to increase to balance the budget. The paper provided an update on progress against each of the growth areas identified in June 2022, namely: growth in on-campus (international) postgraduate student numbers, additional TNE activity, and Online Programme Development (OPD) at scale in partnership with Higher Education Partners (HEP). Following careful consideration of the detailed base case scenarios for growth set out within the paper, the SLT had agreed that these provided a reasonable basis on which to proceed. Further modelling would be undertaken to consider risks and alternative scenarios. The SLT would also consider further the allocation of growth targets to Schools and Divisions.
Overall, members welcomed the good progress during the first year of the growth plan, this being particularly commendable against the backdrop of a volatile external fiscal climate. There was recognition of the need to protect market share and of the need to ‘stress test’ assumptions underpinning the modelling. Full consideration would be given to the next steps at the Court Strategy Day, following which the projections would be updated in response to Court members’ scrutiny and taking into consideration any recommendations.
8. Climate Emergency and Net Zero Strategy
Court CONSIDERED and APPROVED the adoption of a Climate Change and Net Zero Strategy (paper Court (23) 05).
Bruce Laing, Deputy Director of Campus Services attended for this item in his capacity of Co-Convener of the University’s Sustainability Committee. Members were advised that the proposal represented the culmination of previous papers and presentations to FEC and the Court. Whilst decarbonisation was included as a core element, the Strategy adopted a holistic University wide approach beyond simple carbon reduction, demonstrating committed leadership on climate change. Importantly, it reflected QMU’s roles as a civic partner, and in educating and inspiring future generations and researching the impacts of real-world climate change on society.
To support implementation of the Strategy, a three to five year delivery plan was in development, with allocation of responsibility and accountability. Actions within the plan aligned with the priority areas of the Sustainability Leadership Scorecard (SLS) tool. Whilst ambitious, the plan sought to align with existing initiatives. In response to a query about the timescale suggested, and as stated at the previous meeting, the net zero target of 2044 reflected a balance of realism and aspiration. Five yearly review of the target was built into the strategy.
Thanks were extended to Bruce and other stakeholders for their work in developing the Strategy and associated Delivery Plan. Members welcomed the measured approach and inherent recognition that not all metrics were within the direct control of the University. There was recognition too that the strategy was not all about metrics – the Strategy would influence teaching and research and presented an important opportunity to raise awareness of the University’s commitment to sustainability, both internally and externally, including as a marketing tool. Members looked forward to a further update and to the development of the planned supplementary action plan. It was agreed that members would receive a progress report at a future meeting of the Court in 2023.
9. Land Development
Court RECEIVED a report on progress with the Land Development and the Edinburgh Innovation Hub (paper Court (23) 06).
Introducing the paper, the Director of Campus Development and Operations highlighted the following points:
- A1 junction upgrade: Completion was now projected to be in the early part of May 2023. The University and Edinburgh Innovation Hub Design Team were monitoring the delay, but it was not considered as having an adverse impact on the Hub development.
- Commercial Zone: An outline brief for the Commercial Zone was being prepared, including consideration of clinical facilities. This, along with reviews of the QMU campus and the EIP, would inform an updated Masterplan, which was intended to be an early matter for review by the Land Development Advisory Group (LDAG) prior to presentation to FEC and Court.
- Local Development Plan (LDP): The next iteration of the LDP was in the early stages of preparation and scheduled for publication in 2025.
- Innovation Park - Construction Project: The Innovation Park Construction Project remained on schedule and on budget. The stage 3 report and cost plan had been reviewed by FEC on 21 February 2023, and was scheduled to be approved by the Joint Venture (JV) Board on 24 February 2023. A review of procurement options for the main contractor had been undertaken in December 2022, and a report issued recommending a single stage procurement route. The report and recommendations had been endorsed at a specially convened meeting of FEC (paper FEC (23) MINS 01) prior to approval by the JV Board on 31 January 2023.
Court members welcomed the very comprehensive update. However, a point was raised around the timescale for the wider park, with one member suggesting that it would be preferable to market the wider development in early course, given progression in the Edinburgh Market more generally. The Director of Campus Development and Operations advised that work was ongoing in relation to progression of the park development and that this was happening in parallel with the Hub. It included consideration of the masterplan, establishment of infrastructure capacities and negotiation with adjacent land-owners. This accorded with the overall timeline set for the project and the Joint Venture structure, and was subject to regular review.
10. Scottish Funding Council 2022-23
10.1 Self-Evaluation Report 2021-22
Court RECEIVED the University Self-Evaluation Report 2021-22 as submitted to the Funding Council on 16 December 2022 (paper Court (23) 07). The University Secretary advised that the University’s SFC Outcome Agreement Manager had provided very positive feedback on the Self-Evaluation, which set out progress against the outcomes established in the February 2022 iteration of the Queen Margaret University three-year Outcome Agreement 2020-23.
10.2 Outcome Agreement 2022-23
Court CONSIDERED the near final University Outcome Agreement for 2022-23 (paper Court (23) 08)
The University Secretary explained that the 2022-23 document took the form of an update to the 2021-22 iteration. Members were reminded that the structure of the Outcome Agreement reflected the detailed guidance provided by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), and in particular, demonstrated the University’s use of SFC allocated funding for teaching, research and innovation. The SFC planned to publish Outcome Agreements in May 2023. As with the Self-Evaluation Agreement, feedback from the Outcome Agreement Manager had been very positive. Some additional feedback was due from SFC on the research section, but no major changes were likely to arise from that consideration.
Court members provided some minor feedback on consistency within the Self-Evaluation and Outcome Agreement. Subject to further discussion outside the meeting and updates to the climate and net zero sections, Court APPROVED the Outcome Agreement for submission to the SFC. The Vice-Chair took the opportunity to thank the University Secretary for her leadership and the production of the very comprehensive Self-Evaluation and Outcome Agreement documents
11. QAA Quality Enhancement and Standards Review
Court RECEIVED the report of the QAA Quality Enhancement and Standards Review, published by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) on 2 February 2023 (paper Court (23) 09). The overarching outcome had been advised and communicated to Court members in December 2022 as follows:
From the evidence presented, the review team is confident that the institution is making effective progress in continuing to monitor, review and enhance its higher education provision to enable effective arrangements to be in place for managing academic standards and the quality of the student learning experience.
Members were reminded that this was one of two possible outcomes, the other being a judgement of a lack of confidence. The reviewers had identified five areas of good practice under the following headings: student-centred approach to developing and implementing strategy; embedded student partnership; focus on professional learning; reflective and enhancement-focused approach to annual programme monitoring; and the effective use of the Learning and Teaching Panel in supporting institutional enhancement. There were three recommendations for action under the following headings: expectations regarding quality and timeliness of assessment feedback (building on the former Consistency of Assessment Feedback project); review of student facing professional services; and student engagement in internal surveys (maximising response rates).
An action plan would be developed under the auspices of the Student Experience Committee for publication on the QMU website.
Court welcomed the report, noting that the outcome represented a robust and evidence based assessment of the arrangements in place at QMU for managing academic standards and the quality of the student learning experience. Thanks were extended to staff and students for their extensive contributions to the QESR process.
12. Court Effectiveness Review
12.1 Action Plan
Court RECEIVED an update on the Action Plan to address recommendations arising from the Court Effectiveness Review (paper Court (23) 10).
Actions were in progress as detailed in the paper, with all actions due for completion by the June 2023 meeting of the Court. Members’ attention was drawn in particular to good progress with members’ appraisal (recommendation 8) and the update on Equality and Diversity training (recommendation 5). The Race Equality e-learning programme had now been made available to all members of the Court. Members would also have the opportunity to participate in an online Equality and Diversity training session, the date for which was being rescheduled from the originally advised date of 2 March 2023.
12.2 Land Development Governance
Court RECEIVED a diagrammatical representation of governance arrangements for the Land Development project, with supporting explanation (paper Court (23) 11).
The paper set out the decision-making powers invested in the Court and its committees, and the extent of delegation to the Principal and executive officers of the University. The paper addressed the action within the Court Effectiveness Action Plan, which identified the need to clarify and keep under review ‘arrangements for the oversight and assurance of the Land Development Joint Venture’, so as to enable ‘clearer articulation with the roles of the Finance and Estates Committee and Audit and Risk Committee’.
The Director of Campus Development and Operations brought to members’ attention the important role of the Innovation Steering Group (ISG) and the Land Development Advisory Group (LDAG) at this stage of the project. Court members would be represented on the LDAG, which would support the SLT in its considerations around future progression of the Edinburgh Innovation Park, the Commercial Zone and related on-campus estate developments.
Members welcomed the paper and confirmation that there would continue to be scope to review and update the governance arrangements as the project progressed. One member expressed reservation about aspects of their understanding of the governance arrangements and their responsibilities as a Court member in relation to the project. It was suggested that reference could helpfully be made to previously issued papers and in particular, to the milestone dates notified at which decisions would need to be taken by the Finance and Estates Committee and by the Court.
The land development project would continue to be a standing item on the Court agenda.
13. Standing Orders
Court APPROVED an amendment to the Standing Orders to provide for electronic ballot of those members appointed by election (paper Court (23) 12). As the Senate Standing Orders were derived from the Court Standing Orders, this change would also amend the Senate Standing Orders.
14. Compliance Report 2022-23
Court NOTED a report on the following areas of compliance activity from October 2022 to December 2022 (paper Court (23) 13).
- Requests made under the Data Protection Act 2018.
- Requests made under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.
- Requests made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002; and
- Activity related to the Counter-Terrorism & Security Act 2015
Thanks were extended to the Policy Adviser (Governance and Compliance) for his work on the paper.
15. Finance and Estates Committee
Court RECEIVED the minutes of an extraordinary meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 25 January 2023 (paper FEC (23) MINS 01). Matters for members’ attention had been covered elsewhere on the agenda.
COURT RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Senate held on 14 December 2022 (paper SEN (22) MINS 05). Matters for members’ attention had been covered elsewhere on the agenda.
17. Health and Safety Committee
COURT RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Health and Safety Committee held on 15 December 2022 (paper H&S (22) MINS 04). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.
18. Equality And Diversity Committee
Court RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Equality and Diversity Committee held on 8 December 2022 (paper EDC (22) MINS 04). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.
19. Senior Management Remuneration Committee
Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Senior Management Remuneration Committee held on 16 December 2022 (paper SMRC (22) 01 tabled), and NOTED that recommendations therein had been approved by members by circulation on 22 December 2022. The Chair of SMRC advised that the Committee would undertake review of the Senior Management Remuneration Review policy and other matters under the terms of reference of the Committee, with recommendations arising being brought forward to the Court.
20. Dates of Future Meetings
The University Court would meet on the following dates in Academic Session 2022-23:
Wednesday, 26 April 2023: Strategy Day, details to be confirmed.
Wednesday, 21 June 2023 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom