Court Minutes 26 April 2023

Confirmed minutes of the meeting of the University Court held at 10.00 am on 26 April 2023 in the Boardroom, Queen Margaret University.

Present

Court Members Court Members
Pamela Woodburn (Chair) Melanie Moreland
Professor Richard Butt Jacqueline Morrison
Karen Cullen Aasiyah Patankar
Louise Ford Robert Pattullo
Dr Maria Giatsi-Clausen Sarah Phillips
Sir Paul Grice Elizabeth Porter
Professor John Harper Dr Andrew Scott
Steven Hendry Garvin Sealy
Dr Kavi Jagadamma Carol Sinclair
Dr Arturo Langa Guy Smith
James Miller Bill Stronach

 

Staff members in attendance  Role
Jay Brown Student President (Academic Life) Elect
Malcolm Cutt Director of Finance and Corporate Strategic Development

Irene Hynd

University Secretary (Secretary)

Gordon Mackenzie

Head of Strategic Planning and Policy Development

Dawn Martin

Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement (Minute Secretary)

Andrea Saunders

Director of Finance

Steve Scott

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 Andrea Saunders, Director of Finance, and to Jay Brown, Student President (Academic Life) Elect. Members were advised that Jay was due to take up post on 10 June 2023.

As this was Aasiyah Patankar’s final meeting, the Chair thanked Aasiyah for her outstanding commitment and contribution to the University and the work of the Court over the two years of her tenure, and wished her well for the future.

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 22 February 2023 (paper Court (23) MINS 01) 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 activities in which she had been engaged on members’ behalf since the last meeting of the Court.

The most recent meeting of the Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC) had taken place on 8 March 2023, having been moved on-line due to poor weather conditions. Nevertheless, the meeting had provided a useful opportunity to network with other Chairs. The Chair of the Scottish Funding Council, Mike Cantlay OBE, had attended the meeting and engaged in useful discussion with the Chairs around the financial pressures affecting the tertiary education sector, and the higher education sector in particular. Mr Cantlay had advised that he would be pleased to visit institutions to continue discussions and participate in relevant meetings and events. The Director of Universities Scotland, Alastair Sim, had also attended the meeting and had provided an overview of sector priorities and challenges, including in relation to financial concerns, student numbers and opportunities for collaboration. The Chairs would continue discussions around funding, following the publication of the SFC indicative and confirmed grants for 2023-24. Finally, a further important item was the completion of the review of the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance, which was due to be published 2023.

In terms of internal engagement, the Chair continued to meet regularly with the Principal and with the University Secretary. She had worked closely with the Vice-Chair and Senior Leadership Team on the arrangements for the Strategy Day and extended her thanks to the Vice-Chair in particular for his guidance on the structure and format of the day. Lay members’ appraisals were ongoing and due to conclude by the end of June 2023.

6. Principal's Report

The Principal provided a brief oral report on the matters as detailed below, the majority of which would be addressed in more depth over the course of the Strategic sessions that followed the Court business meeting.

6.1 External engagement

Following the appointment of Humza Yousaf as Scotland’s First Minister, a new ministerial team was in place, with Jenny Gilruth as Minister for Education and Skills, and Graeme Dey as Minister for Further and Higher Education. The Principal and Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, Universities Scotland Convener, had recently hosted a ministerial event at QMU, where students from the four Edinburgh universities had spoken with Mr Dey about the range of challenges and opportunities they were facing as undergraduates. Themes covered included the transition from college to university, mental health and wellbeing, support for careers and employability and the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. The Principal looked forward to welcoming Mr Dey onto campus in the near future for a second and QMU specific visit.

Michael Mathieson, recently appointed Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care, was also due to visit the campus in July 2023. This would provide an excellent opportunity to showcase the work undertaken by staff and students within the School of Health Sciences. Court members were advised that Mr Matheson had a long-standing connection with QMU, having graduated from the University with an undergraduate degree in Occupational Therapy

The University also continued to explore opportunities for collaboration with external contacts, including in relation to the Innovation Hub. Most recently, there had been visits from a Borders College delegation and from the Chair of Scotland Food and Drink. The Principal noted that there was a high level of interest from potential partners, and stated that he looked forward to updating Court on developments.

6.2 Graduation 2023

Graduation ceremonies were scheduled for Monday 3 and Tuesday 4 July at the Usher Hall. The Principal looked forward to participating in the ceremonies and in the campus reception events hosted on each evening. Court members were encouraged to accept the invitation to join the celebrations, where possible.

6.3 Industrial action

The University and College Union, (UCU), had notified that it was calling on its members to take part in a marking and assessment boycott as part of a wider programme of action short of a strike (ASOS). This industrial action was in support of UCU’s nationwide dispute over the 2022-23 pay award and working conditions. The Principal expressed his hope that a resolution could be found to the dispute, noting that the SLT understood the strength of feeling amongst staff on the issues underlying the nationwide dispute, and that the University remained committed to continuing discussions at a local level with UCU to address these issues.

6.4 Thanks Goodness Its Thursday

The Principal was delighted to report that the Thank Goodness It’s Thursday (TGIT) project had been shortlisted for the forthcoming Herald Higher Education Awards (Student Welfare Category) and the What Uni? 2023 Awards (Special submission: Cost-of-Living Response).

7. Financial Position

Court RECEIVED an update on the financial position (paper Court (23) 14).

7.1 2022-23 forecast outturn

Introducing the paper, the Director of Finance and Corporate Strategic Development advised that the 2022-23 forecast outturn for the full year remained a breakeven position. At the previous meeting, it had been reported that the position in relation to tuition fees from semester two starts remained uncertain. There continued to be uncertainty around tuition fee collection from students from West Africa due to fund transfer challenges being experienced by those cohorts of international students. If these were partially or wholly resolved, there might be upwards of £250k in additional tuition fee income. A further update would be provided to the Finance and Estates Committee at its meeting in May 2023, following the preparation of the Quarter 3 financial report.

7.2 2023-24 budget update

The Finance and Planning teams were currently working through the detailed budget process for 2023-24, following the submission of plans and budget proposals from Schools and professional services. The budget took into account the SFC grant allocations announced in mid-April 2023 and other external factors, including updated assumptions on inflation. The aim was to ensure that the detailed budget allocations were within the parameters of the overall breakeven budget. The budget and updated financial forecasts would come forward to the Court for approval on 21 June 2023, prior to submission to the SFC.

7.3 SFC indicative grant allocations for 2023-24

The indicative SFC grant allocations for 2023-24 had been published on 13 April 2023. There had been a small uplift (0.6%) in the main teaching grant, reflecting the removal of funded places from those institutions whose student numbers had fallen below the lower tolerance limit. Whilst this position was slightly better than the anticipated flat cash budget, the increase remained well below inflation. There had been an increase in the main Research Excellence Grant (REG) to reflect the unwinding of the transitional arrangement following the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 results. There had also been an increase in the University Innovation Fund grant to support the National Strategy for Economic Transformation and the Scottish Government’s forthcoming Innovation Strategy. Capital maintenance funding had fallen by 77%. Other elements were still to be announced, including controlled places funded by the Scottish Government. It was expected that funding for additional student counsellors that had been introduced during the pandemic would be withdrawn from August 2023 and consideration would need to be given to funding this provision from core resources instead.

Members sought clarification on a number of matters, which was provided as detailed below:

  • In relation to controlled numbers, confirmation of final funded places was pending, but intake targets had been provided for Nursing, Paramedic Science, and Initial Teacher Education. SFC had indicated that there would be no claw back for under recruitment to Nursing in 2022-23 and 2023-24, but HEIs would need to provide evidence of efforts to recruit.
  • The Research Excellence Grant was based mainly on the results from the REF 2021 exercise, and so there was no scope to exert any noteworthy influence on this funding stream until after REF 2028.
  • The reduction in capital maintenance grant had implications for the prioritisation of expenditure, which would be considered at an upcoming meeting of the Strategic Investment Board. The planned fire safety works in the student accommodation were already in the forecasts and would not be affected.
  • Steps had been taken to mitigate particular challenges experienced in relation to collecting international student fees. These included review of the allocation of UKVI CAS statements to avoid over-reliance on particular markets, and an increase in the international student fee deposit from 2023-24.

Following the discussion around international students, clarification was requested on the potential implications of increased international student recruitment on QMU halls of residence. The Principal reported that the student halls were at capacity currently. The housing shortage in the private rented sector also remained acute in Edinburgh and much of the rest of Scotland, the reasons for this being multi-faceted. The four Edinburgh universities, together with Edinburgh College and the City of Edinburgh Council were working to explore a range of options, including mixed-use developments and opportunities to work in partnership with housing associations. Whilst discussions were progressing well, it was acknowledged that any solution would require longer term planning and implementation.

8. Land Development

Court RECEIVED a short oral report on progress with the Land Development project. The Director of Campus Development and Operations highlighted the following points, which would be addressed more fully through his Strategy Day presentation and subsequent discussion:

  • The Hub Development remained on track and on budget, having moved from stage three to stage four of the design phase.
  • The planning application had progressed from an in-principle application to the detailed planning phase.
  • The procurement process for the Hub contractor was progressing.
  • The A1 junction was due to open on 22 May 2023, improving access to the campus.

9. Court Effectiveness Review

Court RECEIVED an update on the Action Plan to address recommendations arising from the Court Effectiveness Review (paper Court (23) 15).

Actions were in progress as detailed in the paper, with all actions due for completion by the June 2023 meeting of the Court. The University Secretary advised that work on the Court web pages was in progress and that the Policy Adviser, Governance and Compliance, was likely to be in contact with some members shortly to request information for website biographies.

Members were advised that there had been ongoing research into procurement of a board management system, but that, on balance, the systems demonstrated did not evidently add value, with a number restricted in terms of the number of licences granted under the annual fee charged.

Members’ views were sought on the likely value added that would be realised, given the cost implications and limited added functionality. In discussing the procurement costs typically associated with board management software, and the benefits that might be realized in terms of paper circulation and archiving, members expressed a preference for enhanced use of SharePoint, which was in use already for some aspects of Court business. It was noted that multi-factor authentication (MFA) was in place to safeguard against cyber security attacks and members agreed that a reminder on how to use SharePoint and MFA would be helpful.

10. Mainstreaming Report and Equality Outcomes

Court RECEIVED the review of the University Mainstreaming Report and Equality Outcomes, together with an Equal Pay Audit (paper Court (23) 16).

Introducing the paper, the University Secretary advised that production of the Mainstreaming Report was a requirement of the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) introduced in the Equality Act 2010 (Specific Duties) (Scotland) Regulations 2012. The 2023 iteration of the Mainstreaming Report provided an interim update to progress with the six outcomes established in the 2021 Report.

Members were advised that the Report detailed significant progress across all outcomes, with the exception of Outcome 6, which would now form an area of focused and priority work for the newly appointed EDI Adviser and Human Resources colleagues.

Staff Equalities Data and the 2023 Equal Pay Review were provided as Appendices to the Report. The Equal Pay Review was based on pay data from March 2022.

Analysis of the data set showed that there was a gender pay gap, in terms of mean salary between female and male employees, of some 4.50% in favour of male employees. This had increased slightly since 2021, but was not considered to be significant under the definition established by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). When excluding the salaries of SLT members, the Mean Pay Gap was shown to be favouring male employees by 0.23%.

In terms of benchmarking, QMU continued to perform significantly better in terms of the pay gaps reported for UK and Scottish HEIs. The report also revealed significant ethnicity and disability pay gaps at QMU that were wider than benchmarking figures reported across Scottish HEIs. These had been identified as areas of priority work moving forward. The report from the Equality and Culture Review, which was in progress under the leadership of Professor Paul Miller, would come to a forthcoming meeting of the Race Equality Steering Group, then through the EDC to the Court.

It was explained to members that the Mainstreaming and Equality Pay Reports were developed and monitored under the auspices of the Equality and Diversity Committee, but that the University community had ownership and responsibility for implementation of the Equality Outcomes. The Report had been considered by the Equality and Diversity Committee on 25 April 2023, and was due for publication by 30 April 2023, subject to Court approval, prior to which a further proof read would be undertaken.

Members welcomed the Mainstreaming and Equality Pay Reports and provided feedback on some points of detail within the Mainstreaming Report, subject to which the Reports were APPROVED for publication. It was noted that the 2025 iteration of the Mainstreaming Report was likely to be streamlined to further enhance clarity and transparency and that the EDI Adviser would also play a lead role in developing this. In response to a specific question, it was confirmed that the University was working towards a bronze institutional Athena Swan award.

Thanks were extended to the EDI Adviser and the University Secretary for their work on the Reports.

11. Compliance Report 2022-23

Court NOTED a report on the following areas of compliance activity from January 2023 to March 2023 (paper Court (23) 17).

  1. Complaints.
  2. Requests made under the Data Protection Act 2018.
  3. Requests made under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.
  4. Requests made under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002; and
  5. 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.

12. Freedom of Information

Court NOTED the annual report on Freedom of Information, Environmental Information Regulations, Data Protection and Records Management activity (paper Court (23) 18).

13. Finance and Estates Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 18 March 2023 (paper FEC (23) MINS 02). Matters for members’ attention had been covered elsewhere on the agenda.

14. Audit and Risk Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee held on 8 March 2023 (paper AUDIT (23) MINS 01). Matters for members’ attention had been covered elsewhere on the agenda.

15. Senate

COURT RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Senate held on 15 March 2023 (paper SEN (23) MINS 01).

The Vice-Chair noted that the Senate minutes provided a comprehensive record of the conduct of the academic business of the University, such that the Court could have confidence in the management of academic standards and quality of the student learning experience. Importantly, the minutes demonstrated also the relationship and flow of business between the governing and academic bodies. Members noted with particular interest the discussion around Artificial Intelligence (minute 6.1.5 refers). Given the rapid pace of development and implications for industry and society more broadly, this was an area of considerable importance, which would undoubtedly be revisited at a future meeting of the Court.

The Principal reiterated the open invitation to Court members to attend meetings of the Senate. Sarah Phillips had attended the meeting on 15 March 2023 and provided feedback, noting that she had welcomed this opportunity to learn more about the work of the Senate and its sub-committees.

16. Health and Safety Committee

COURT RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Health and Safety Committee held on 28 March 2023 (paper H&S (23) MINS 01). There were no matters brought to members’ attention.

17. Dates of Future Meetings

The University Court would meet on the following date in Academic Session 2022-23:

Wednesday, 21 June 2023 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom

The University Court would meet on the following dates in Academic Session 2023-24:

Wednesday 4 October 2023 at 3.00 pm
Wednesday 6 December 2023 at 2.00 pm (extended meeting to accommodate strategic discussion).
Wednesday 21 February 2024 at 3.00 pm
Wednesday 17 April 2024: Strategy Day (Full day)
Wednesday 19 June 2024 at 3.00 pm

The date of the Stakeholder Event would be discussed and agreed in due course, informed by this year’s experiences. Pre-Court sessions would continue, including upcoming presentations on the Climate Change and Net Zero Strategy and Alumni Relations and Fundraising.