Court Minutes 27 April 2022

Confirmed minutes of the meeting of the University Court held at 3.00pm on 27 April 2022 in the Boardroom, Queen Margaret University.

Present

Court Members Court Members
 Pamela Woodburn (Chair)  Ken McGarrity
 Elaine Acaster OBE  Melanie Moreland
 Professor Richard Butt  Aasiyah Patankar
 Karen Cullen  Robert Pattullo
 Sir Paul Grice   Elizabeth Porter
 Professor John Harper   Dr Eurig Scandrett
 Steven Hendry  Dr Andrew Scott
 Dr Arturo Langa  Garvin Sealy

 

Staff members in attendance  Role
Professor Fiona Coutts Dean, Health Sciences

Irene Hynd

University Secretary (Secretary)

Dawn Martin

Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement (Minute Secretary)

Dr Peri Papadimitriou

Observer

Steve Scott

Director of Campus and Commercial Services

1. Welcome and Memebership

The Chair welcomed members to the meeting of the University Court. A particular welcome was extended to Dr Peri Papadimitriou, who was attending as an observer on behalf of the appointed UCU member. Apologies were noted for Carolyn Bell, Julie Churchill, Sophie Cunningham, Dr Maria Giatsi-Clausen and Dr Frank Lennon OBE.

The Chair was pleased to advise that Karen Cullen had been re-elected as the support staff representative on Court. The Chair congratulated Karen on her re-election for a further three-year tenure. Congratulations were extended also to Aasiyah Patankar on being re-elected as Student President for a second period of tenure. Sophie Cunningham, current Vice-President, had not sought re-election, and would be leaving QMU in June 2022. The Chair acknowledged formally the significant contribution that Sophie had made to the work of the Court and the University over her year of tenure. Court members joined the Chair in wishing Sophie the very best for the future.

Members were advised that arrangements were being progressed to appoint to the vacancy in the TU appointed support staff member.

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 23 February 2022 (COURT (22) MINS 01) were APPROVED as an accurate record.

4.2 Matters arising

There were no matters arising.

5. Chair's Report

The Chair reported on a number of areas of internal engagement with members of the University. She had been delighted to participate in the International Women’s Day online event on 8 March 2022. Hosted by the Aurora Women’s Leadership Network, the event had provided important space for reflection and discussion around gender equality. Also in March 2022, she had attended an enjoyable and impressive student theatre production at the Studio Theatre on campus of Agatha Christie’s ‘The Hollow’ by the fourth year BA (Hons) Acting and Performance students.

Monthly meetings with the Principal continued to be valuable in terms of updates on key matters of importance for the University.

In terms of external engagement, the Chair had attended the most recent meeting of the Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC) at the end of March 2022, and at which Jamie Hepburn, MSP and Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training had been present. Matters covered at the meeting included the conflict in Ukraine and support for Ukranian students; the 2022 Spending Review; and the planned establishment of three new national education bodies to replace the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) and Education Scotland. Updates on these matters would come to future meetings of the Court, as appropriate.

The Chair reported also on a visit she had undertaken with the Principal, Deputy Principal, and Director of Campus Development and Operations, to the Newcastle Helix ecosystem for public and private bodies. Whilst the Helix operated in a different context to the University’s Hub and Innovation Park, the visit had been most useful in terms of understanding the challenges and learning associated with a land development project of that scale.

6. Principal's Report

The Principal provided a report on recent developments (COURT (22) 08), covering matters as noted below.

6.1 Court Strategy Day

The Principal expressed his appreciation to members of the Court for their enthusiastic engagement at the recent Strategy Day. The Senior Leadership Team (SLT) had welcomed in particular the opportunity that the event had provided to meet with Court members in person to discuss key issues likely to preoccupy the University and the sector as a whole over the coming years. The Principal welcomed the Court’s broad endorsement of the proposed approaches to achieving financial sustainability presented at the event, and the guidance provided on areas for further development and clarification. This included the underlying assumptions on inflation, and the provision of sensitivity analyses on the income generation proposals presented. The proposals would be subject to further review and development at the upcoming SLT away day, prior to presentation at the Court meeting on 22 June 2022.

6.2 Covid-19 update

The Scottish Government had published updated Covid guidance for universities in March 2022. In line with the guidance, the University had established a Covid Response Group, which would replace the Covid Business Continuity Group. The refreshed Group would meet less frequently than its predecessor, but would retain the flexibility to convene at short notice, should that be required. Externally, the Principal continued to represent the sector on the Scottish Government’s Coronavirus (Covid-19) Advanced Learning Recovery Group, and the University Secretary continued to represent the University’s interests on the Covid Leads Group.

As advised to Court previously, concerns remained within the sector regarding the provisions of the Coronavirus (Recovery and Reform) (Scotland) Bill, and in particular the specification of emergency powers for Ministers to direct the activities of Higher Education Institutions. Universities Scotland had provided written evidence to the Scottish Parliament and oral evidence to the Education Committee on this matter. The Principal would keep Court members updated on developments.

6.3 Planning for Session 2022-23

Planning for academic Session 2022-23 was well developed at this stage, with a focus on increasing the element of face to face delivery to something resembling that which had been in place prior to the pandemic, while retaining on-line delivery where it was recognised as having benefitted the student experience. In seeking to maximise on-campus learning and teaching, the University the educational and social benefits of such provision. A number of existing risk mitigations would remain in place, based on government and other health protection advice.

The Senior Leadership Team had considered a number of iterations of a statement on hybrid working, which would set parameters for staff working patterns in the post-Covid work environment. A draft for consultation had been agreed by SLT at its meeting on 26 April 2022, and consultation was being undertaken currently with staff, students and Trade Unions.

6.4 Student numbers

Overall, total student numbers for Session 2021-22 continued to perform well against target, with particularly strong international recruitment. Further details were set out in the Second Quarter KPI report provided to members (minute 7.2 refers). The University continued to work hard to meet student recruitment targets established for Session 2022-23, and to convert applicants to entrants for Session 2022-23.

6.5 Online Portfolio Development

As advised previously to Court members, the University had entered into a partnership with Higher Ed Partners (HEP) to support the strategic goal of achieving an increase in the overall student population, by increasing the range of programmes delivered online. The Online Programme Development (OPD) project had now launched, as communicated to staff in a formal announcement on 19 April 2022. Staff would be working with the HEP team in the coming months to develop a selection of new programmes in a fully online asynchronous format. An Operations Group had been established to oversee the preparations, with the first programmes due to commence in January 2023. The Principal welcomed the partnership as a means to develop thriving online programmes to meet the needs of a diverse and growing audience of potential students. Importantly, the development responded to the identified need to develop viable new income streams.

6.6 Financial position

Members had received the updated financial forecast for 2021-22 under separate cover (minute 7.1 refers).

The draft budget for 2022-23, and the financial forecasts for subsequent years, were being developed in line with the discussion at the Court Strategy Day, and with the updated financial strategy currently in development. The budget and financial forecasts would take into account current inflationary pressures, particularly in relation to staff costs and energy prices.

Notification of indicative teaching funding allocations for 2022-23 had been received from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) in late March. These showed a cash terms increase of 0.9% for the University, which underlined further the need to develop alternative funding streams. Funding allocations for research and innovation would be advised by the SFC following publication of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) results on 12 May 2022.

Universities Scotland had submitted evidence to the Scottish Government’s Spending Review, detailing the financial challenges facing the university sector in Scotland, as well as making the case for maintaining investment in Higher Education in order to provide a catalyst for the economy to recover from the pandemic.

6.7 Industrial action

The University and College Union (UCU) had carried out a further ballot of its members in relation to the 2021-22 New Joint Negotiation Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) negotiations. UCU had failed to secure a mandate from a majority of its members at QMU for further strike action, but had secured a mandate for the continuation of action short of a strike (ASOS).

6.8 Head of Planning

The Principal was delighted to advise members that Gordon McKenzie had been appointed to the role of Head of Strategic Planning and Policy. Gordon would attend meetings of the University Court, and its standing committees, as appropriate.


6.9 Postgraduate Research Experience Survey

QMU had re-entered the Postgraduate Research Experience Survey (PRES) this academic year, following a short break. Similar to the National Student Survey (NSS) for final year undergraduate students, the PRES provided a mechanism for postgraduate research students to provide feedback anonymously on their doctoral programme experiences. The PRES launched on 9 March 2022 and would close on 29 April 2022. The results of the Survey, which included benchmarking information, would help inform the forthcoming review of QMU’s Graduate School programmes.

6.10 Launch of the revised QMU Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy

The refreshed Research and Knowledge Exchange Strategy (2022-27) was launched on 1 April 2022, with People, Culture and Impact at its core. A key driver in developing the Strategy was the continued need to ensure that the University was responsive to a challenging external funding context, with strategic objectives that were clear, consistent and cognisant of national policy agendas.

Members were reminded of the publication timeline for the outcome of the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF). Institutions would receive their individual results on 9 May 2022, followed on 10 May 2022 by the results for all institutions. The results would be issued thereafter to the press (on 11 May 2022), before publication on the REF website on 12 May 2022.

Strict protocols governing the embargo were in place, including limitations on sharing data internally prior to the public release. Stringent sector requirements were also in force governing the responsible use of metrics. Work had commenced internally on the REF communications plan, with a particular focus on impact, using case studies and other formats accessible to a lay audience.

At this stage, it was unclear how REF results would impact on funding, as the outcomes from the recent SFC consultation had not yet been published. However, it was expected that, for Session 2022-23, the SFC would take active steps to minimise the impact on any individual institution, in the event that their profile had changed significantly. An update on the funding implications would come to a future meeting of the Court.

6.11 Students’ Union

The Principal echoed the Chair’s earlier congratulations to Aasiyah Patankar on her re-election to the position of Student President for a further year. He also wished to put on records his thanks to Sophie Cunningham for her work over the past year. He was delighted to advise members that Louise Ford had been elected to the role of President, Student Activities. Louise would take up post formally on 9 June 2022 and would attend the next meeting of the Court.

6.12 Concluding remarks

The Principal concluded his report by reiterating his thanks to colleagues for their continuing dedication and hard work, to students and student representatives for their commitment and leadership, and to Court members for their ongoing support and encouragement.

The Chair thanked the Principal for his detailed and informative presentation and invited members to comment on the key matters raised. Members discussed, at some length, the financial climate, future funding allocations to the University and the wider sector, and the University’s future contribution to the Scottish economy.

The Principal reiterated that Universities Scotland continued to lobby on behalf of the sector for an increase in Higher Education funding. Whilst it was unlikely that there would be any significant increase in teaching, research and innovation funding, it was expected that discrete allocations, for example to address the skills agenda, would continue to be made by the SFC. In response this, QMU had undertaken extensive work on the development of micro-credentials to upskill the workforce in key areas. More broadly, the introduction of refreshed Graduate Attributes would equip QMU graduates with the necessary transferable skills for a wide range of future careers.

The Spending Review outcome was unlikely to impact significantly on the financial health of the sector. The sector’s request for a multi-year funding settlement to provide a degree of certainty around funding was a matter of public record. Irrespective of the Spending Review settlement, there remained a growing impetus to diversify income streams. Members acknowledged the associated challenges presented by this, but cited progress with the City Deal and online portfolio development as examples of alternative income generation.

The National Strategy for Economic Transformation was identified as a key reference point and driver for the future of the sector. The Principal advised that the University was well placed to support the implementation of the Strategy through, for example, its work in social cohesion and identity, enterprise and innovation, and through the Business Gateway and established relationships with SMEs. The predominance of Nursing and Allied Health Professions within the QMU portfolio was suggested as being critical to Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic, with other disciplines also making an important contribution to improving society locally, nationally and internationally.

The Principal advised that he continued to engage with Ministers and officials on a cross party basis to demonstrate the University’s current and future contribution to strengthening the Scottish Economy and wider society. Most recently, Lorna Slater, MSP and Minister for Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity had visited the campus. Jamie Hepburn, MSP and Minister for Higher Education and Further Education and Joe Griffin, Director-General, Education would visit later in the year. The Principal would keep Court updated on the outcome from these and other engagements.

7. Finance And Key Performance Indicators

7.1 Update on financial performance

Court RECEIVED an update on financial performance for the six months to 31 January 2022, and the updated forecast outturn position (Court (22) 09).

Members noted that the paper had been prepared for the meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 23 March 2022, with updates provided in the Principal’s report (minute 6.6 refers). Overall, the Quarter two accounts showed an improved position against budget. A deficit of £260k was forecast, but it was hoped that, with careful management, the University could achieve a breakeven underlying position by the financial year end.

The budget assumed a return to summer school business as currently planned, following a two year hiatus during the pandemic. There was a risk to this income stream were Covid restrictions re-introduced, either in Scotland, or in the home country of the language students. It was confirmed that current and forecast cash balances were sufficient to meet the covenant.

Members welcomed the report, but queried the time lag in terms of data presented. The Principal responded that it was usual to receive quarterly reports at Board level, and that the timing reflected the provision for review by the Finance and Estates Committee prior to presentation to the Court. The Chair of the Finance and Estates Committee provided further clarification to members on the reporting cycle. It was not always possible to align quarterly updates with meetings of the University Court. Any adjustment to the cycle of meetings would need to balance potential risk to the consideration of other time sensitive business. It was open to Court members to request additional information to inform their understanding of the position at any point in the year.

The Principal provided assurance that monthly operational checks allowed the University to be satisfied that the budget remained sufficiently flexible to accommodate unforeseen expenses. He noted that there had been unprecedented inflationary pressures this year, but that these had been factored into the £260k deficit. Whilst the forecast deficit was ambitious, the Principal concluded that it remained realistic, as the direction of travel remained overall on track.

7.2 Key Performance Indicators

Court RECEIVED the Second Quarter Key Performance Indicators (KPI) report (Court (22) 10).

Members were reminded that the revised format included only the higher level KPIs, with operational responsibility for the full suite of KPIs delegated to the SLT. Consistent with this approach, SLT had recently reviewed a more detailed KPI report for Quarter 2, and had not identified any matters of concern that would need to be reported to Court. Key points within the report were noted as follows:

  • Whilst below the target, the percentage of Scottish domiciled entrants from SIMD20 postcodes represented an improvement on the previous year. The absolute number of SIMD20 entrants to the University had doubled in recent years. However, as a percentage of overall Scottish domiciled entrants, growth had been at a slower rate.
  • The University continued to meet the core Commission on Widening Access target of having students from the 20% most deprived backgrounds representing at least 10% of full-time first-degree entrants.
  • The percentage of Higher National (HN) students admitted with advanced standing was significantly below target, having been affected by circumstances arising during the pandemic, including decisions around SQA Higher and A Level grades. It was expected that it would continue to be challenging to increase entry with advanced standing.
  • The use of Innovation Vouchers had declined because of Covid. Graduate start-ups remained above target.
  • Home fee student numbers were slightly below target, but Rest of UK and International numbers were above target, bringing overall numbers above target. Related tuition fee income was forecast to be slightly above target for the full year.

Members welcomed the report, noting that QMU had a strong track record in widening access, including in relation to SIMD20 recruitment, and entry with Advanced Standing. As such, the decline in these KPIs was not indicative of the overall trajectory. The Outcome Agreement helpfully provided narrative around the challenges, and discussions continued with the Outcome Agreement Manager, including in relation to defining articulation routes and the impact of increased competition across the sector to recruit from SIMD20 postcodes and from a reduced pool of college entrants.

8. Land Development Update

Court RECEIVED a report from the Director of Campus Development and Operations on the Land Development around the University, and on progress with the Edinburgh Innovation Park Phase 1 Hub Development (Court (22) 11).

Members were advised that the Joint Venture Partners for the Edinburgh Innovation Park had formally signed off the Joint Venture Agreement and the various related documents, all of which had been provided in near final format to the Court at its previous meeting. It was confirmed that no substantial changes had been made to the versions provided to Court. In conjunction, the Joint Venture Company structure had been formally implemented. It was noted that the timeline for confirming the VAT position for the companies was currently being determined, with initial paperwork having been submitted to HMRC.

The current progress of the Hub development was reported in the Project Management Report prepared by Currie & Brown, which was included as an Appendix to the report (Court (22) 11). The key activity since the previous reporting period had been the selection and appointment of the Design Team. This had been undertaken through an Open Procedure, facilitated through the Public Contracts Scotland Portal, in compliance with Scottish Government procurement regulations. There had been 31 submissions to the tender process under three Lots (Architect; Civil and Structural Engineer; Mechanical and Electrical Engineer). Of these 31, three had been subject to scrutiny as a result of an abnormally low tender, one of whom had been progressed following appropriate due diligence as a preferred bidder. The three preferred bidders (one for each of the Lots) had been identified along with comprehensive information on the tender and scoring process.

Members sought clarification on a number of matters related to the tender process, including potential risks associated with increased costs. It was confirmed that the tenders were set at a fixed price and that this took into consideration both the expected and potentially unexpected fluctuations in relation to utilities and supplies. A contingency sum was included within the project budget and a risk management framework was also in place.

Court NOTED the progress made with the Joint Venture Agreement and the current status of the Hub Development. Having considered carefully the recommendations for each of the Lots, Court ENDORSED the recommendations of the Design Procurement Team, which were due to be considered by the Joint Venture Board on 29 April 2022.

The Director of Campus Development and Operations advised that he had sought to map key developments in the land development project against meeting dates for the FEC and the Court, meaning that Court would give consideration to key decisions in advance of these being presented for approval by the Joint Venture Board.

9. Court Effectiveness Review

Court RECEIVED an oral report on progress with the Externally Facilitated Review of Court Effectiveness. There had been a good response to the Advance HE facilitated survey, and good engagement with the Advance HE Court members’ focus group. The Convener thanked members for their participation in these activities. The Senate focus group had met earlier in the day. The Advance HE Facilitators would present the key themes and emerging recommendations from the work undertaken thus far to the Steering Group on 29 April 2022. The final report and recommendations would be presented to the Steering Group on 19 May 2022, following which the Steering Group report, including reflections on the Advance HE findings would come to the meeting of the Court on 22 June 2022.

10. Freedom Of Information Compliance Report 2021

Court NOTED the annual compliance report on Freedom of Information, Environmental Information Regulations and Data Protection activity in calendar year 2021 (Court (22) 12).

11. Complaint Handling Annual Report 2021

Court NOTED a report on formal complaints dealt with under the University’s Model Complaints Handling procedure in calendar year 2021 (Court (22) 13).

12. Compliance Report Quarter 1 2022

Court NOTED a report on areas of compliance activity during the period January to March 2022 (Court (22) 14).

13. Finance and Estates Committee

Court RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 23 March 2022 (FEC (22) MINS 02). Matters for members’ attention had been covered elsewhere on the agenda.

14. Audit and Risk Committee

Court RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee held on 28 March 2022 (AUDIT (22) MINS 01). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.

15. Senate

COURT RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Senate held on 16 March 2022 (SEN (22) MINS 01). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.

16. Health and Safety Committee

Court RECEIVED the unconfirmed minutes of the meeting of the Health and Safety Committee held on 30 March 2022 (H&S (22) MINS 01). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.

17. Equality and Diversity Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Equality and Diversity Committee held on 10 March 2022 (EDC (22) MINS 01). There were no particular matters brought to members’ attention.

18. Nominations Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Nominations Committee held on 22 April 2022 (NOM (22) MINS 02). The following matters were brought to members’ attention:

Applications for vacancies to lay membership (minute 5.2 refers):

Six applicants were advised to the Court as being invited for interview. As a result of an extension of the deadline to 17 April 2022, one further candidate would considered for interview.

Members were advised of the Vice-Chair of Court’s stated intention to demit office in autumn 2022. This would create a further vacancy in the lay court membership.

Appointment of the Chancellor (minute 6 refers): Dame Prue Leith CBE would formally complete her second term of office in July 2023, having served in the role with distinction for six years. Appointment criteria would be provided separately to members as part of the search process.

19. Dates of Future Meetings

The final meeting of the Court for Academic Session 2021-22 would be held on 22 June 2022 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom, University Campus.

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

Wednesday, 5 October 2022 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom
Wednesday, 30 November 2022 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom
Wednesday, 22 February 2023 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom
Wednesday, 26 April 2023 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom
Wednesday, 21 June 2023 at 3.00 pm in the Boardroom

20. Items For Information

Copies of the presentations delivered at the Court Strategy Day on 25 March 2022 were provided for information, together with the accompanying notes of the subsequent discussion. The Chair thanked members for their engagement, noting that actions identified at the Strategy Day would be agreed, with progress reported at future meetings of the Court.