Court Minutes 29 September 2021

Confirmed minutes of the meeting of the University Court held at 9.15 am on 29 September 2021 in the Halle Lecture Theatre and by video conference.


Court Member  Court Member 

Elaine Acaster OBE (Acting Chair)

Carolyn Bell

Professor Richard Butt

Julie Churchill

Sophie Cunningham

Dr Maria Giatsi-Clausen

Sir Paul Grice

Cynthia Guthrie

Professor John Harper

Steven Hendry

Frank Lennon OBE

Dr Arturo Langa

Aasiyah Patankar

Robert Pattullo

Sarah Phillips

Elizabeth Porter

Dr Eurig Scandrett

Dr Andrew Scott

Garvin Sealy



In Attendance  In Attendance

Professor Fiona Coutts

Dean, Health Sciences

Gordon Craig

Head of Planning

Malcolm Cutt

Director of Operations and Finance

Irene Hynd

University Secretary (Secretary)

Dawn Martin

Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement (Minute Secretary)

Steve Scott

Director of Campus and Commercial Services

Professor David Stevenson

Dean, Arts, Social Sciences and Management

Welcome and Membership

The Vice-Chair welcomed members attending the Ordinary meeting of the University Court, which was being hosted in the Halle Lecture Theatre, and by means of video conference. The meeting preceded a full day of presentation and discussion as part of the Court Strategy Day.

Apologies were noted for Karen Cullen, Ken McGarrity, Melanie Moreland, and Pamela Woodburn.

Conflicts of Interest

There were no conflicts of interest declared.

Determination of Other Competent Business

There was no other Competent Business identified.

Minutes of the Previous Meeting

Meeting held on 23 June 2021

The unconfirmed minutes of the Court meeting held on 23 June 2021 (COURT (21) MINS 04) were APPROVED as an accurate record, subject to an amendment to the spelling of Garvin Sealy’s name (minute 1 refers).

Matters Arising

There were no matters arising.

Chair's Report

The Acting Chair advised that the Chair would provide a full report at the following meeting of the Court.

Principal's Report

The Principal welcomed members back onto the campus after a period of some absence occasioned by the Covid-19 restriction. Speaking to his report, the Principal highlighted the matters set out below.

Return to Campus

The return to campus has progressed in line with the planning assumptions advised to the Court at its meeting in June 2021. All lectures were being delivered online, and, as far as possible, all other teaching, learning and support activities were taking place on campus, in recognition of the significant positive benefits for students’ mental health of being able to connect with their peers in person. Particular appreciation was extended to the officers of the Students’ Union for managing the difficult balance of organizing and hosting live and virtual events during Freshers’ Week within the prevailing COVID mitigations. The Principal paid tribute also to the wider staff and student community for the exemplary compliance with COVID guidance, noting that the number of positive COVID student and staff cases since the start of the session remained below double figures. Planning for the delivery of the remainder of the academic session would continue to be informed by discussions with Scottish Government officials, including through the Advanced Learning Recovery Group, of which the Principal was a member, and the COVID Leads Group, of which the University Secretary was a member.

Testing and Vaccination

The University remained committed to engaging fully in arrangements for student and staff testing, and for student vaccination, both of which were important elements of the recovery route map. Lateral Flow Device (LFD) home testing kits were available on campus to all students and staff, and had been placed in each room in student halls pre- arrival. The on-site vaccination centre, staffed by NHS Lothian staff clinicians, had operated on campus for the first two weeks of the academic session, i.e. from 13 September 2021, and had seen 86 students receive either their first or second COVID vaccination.

Student Numbers 2021-22

A fuller update on student recruitment and on overall student numbers for the 2021-22 academic session would be provided at the next meeting of the Court. At this point in the cycle, recruitment in terms of ‘home’ Scottish undergraduate numbers was below target, with some movement in this over the critical period of confirmation and clearing in August. International and rUK undergraduate and postgraduate entrants were projected to be ahead of target. The next cycle of recruitment, i.e. for the academic year 2022-23 was now also underway. The first Open Day had taken place earlier in September, and had attracted positive feedback from attendees.

Financial Outturn

The Principal was pleased to report cautious grounds for optimism, noting that the financial outturn showed a modest surplus above the forecast. Detailed information on the financial positon would be presented later in the agenda (Minute 7 below refers).

League Tables

The University’s position had improved in the Times/Sunday Times Good University Guide 2022 published on 17 September 2021. The University was now placed 66th (out of 131) compared to 89th in last year’s guide. This placed the University in the top 50% of universities included in the Guide.

Programme for Government

The Scottish Government had published its ‘Programme for Government’ earlier in September 2021, with Scotland’s recovery from the pandemic the main focus. A Fairer, Greener Scotland also focused on wider challenges, including the climate emergency, deep-seated societal inequalities, and mitigating the consequences of Brexit. In a section entitled ‘Strengthening our world class further and higher education’, colleges and universities were recognised as “a significant driver of our economic success’. Headline commitments within the programme included the following: maintenance of the no tuition fees policy for Scottish students; a range of reforms to student support; a review of postgraduate funding; a new innovation strategy; investment to tackle any digital divide in further and higher education; a student mental health action plan; and a new strategy for international education. QMU’s institutional strategy was closely aligned with these commitments, and there would be opportunity for further related discussion over the course of the Strategy Day and beyond.


The Principal was delighted to announce the appointment of Professor David Stevenson to the role of Dean of the School of Arts, Social Sciences and Management. He was similarly pleased to advise of the appointment of Professor Catriona Bell to the role of Director of Academic Development and Learning Enhancement. Professor Bell would join the University from Advance HE in October 2021 with a remit for strategic leadership of the enhancement of learning, teaching and assessment across the University's portfolio, as well as support in research pedagogy.

The Acting Chair thanked the Principal for his detailed report, noting that many of the themes would be addressed further over the course of the Strategy Day.

In discussion, various matters were covered, including the challenges of converting student applications to entrants, and contingency planning for any future COVID restrictions that might become necessary. It was noted also that staff and students had reported their appreciation of the transparent approach and regularity and clarity of communications from the Senior Leadership Team during the pandemic.

Financial Update

Court RECEIVED an update on the draft financial outturn for the year ended 31 July 2021 (COURT (21) 26).

Introducing the paper, the Director of Operations and Finance advised that the current position was an underlying surplus of £400k, with an end of year cash balance of around £15m. This remained subject to final review, audit adjustments and adjustments for pension provisions, and possibly also for asset revaluation. Following the year end audit, the final accounts would be brought to the next meeting of the Court for approval.

At Quarter three a projected deficit of £1.2 million had been reported, but members had also been advised that the position was likely to improve prior to the year end. Factors contributing to the improved position included receipt of an insurance claim for business interruption related to COVID, and release of credit provisions held from previous years but no longer required. The main contribution to the improvement was additional SFC grants received in 2020-21. It had been projected that additional expenditure would match the additional grants, but it had been possible to allocate a significant element against additional expenditure allowances already made in the 2020-21 budget and, in some cases, to compensate for loss of commercial and student accommodation
income. At the time of the Finance and Estates Committee (FEC) meeting held on 13 September 2021 (minute 13 refers), the surplus had looked as though it might be higher, but additional provisions had been made in 2020-21 for potential bad debts and increased holiday pay accrual.

The Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) pension results had been received earlier in the week, indicating a reduction in the level of provision of around £10 million (reversing a significant element of last year's increase of around £15 million).

In summary, the financial outturn represented a positive result for an atypical year. Session 2021-22 had been designated as a further ‘emergency year’ by the Scottish Funding Council. As such, there was continued uncertainty, but the overall positive trajectory was expected to continue.

Members acknowledged the very positive results, but expressed the need for continued caution, noting specifically that some planned expenditure had been put on hold due to continued uncertainty around the pandemic. In discussion, a range of matters were covered, including the following:

  • Trajectory since the Transformation Project: At the June 2020 meeting of the Court, it had been agreed, in response to COVID, to extend the timeline for the financial plan agreed as an outcome from the Transformation Project. This meant that the target for a return to breakeven had been pushed back by one year to 2022-23.
  • Additional SFC grants: The Director of Operations and Finance confirmed that allowances for additional COVID related expenditure had been built into the revised budget. It was expected that the University would be able to comply in full with the terms of the additional grant agreements.
  • Holiday pay accrual: Holiday pay accrual represented the difference between untaken holidays and the annual holiday balance. In relation to staff wellbeing, members were advised that annual leave arrangements during COVID had been subject to consultation with the Trade Unions so as to strike a sensible balance between staff taking annual leave and being able to carry unused days into the following annual leave year.
  • Income Strategy: Court members would receive an update at the next Court meeting on the Income Strategy considered by the Finance and Estates Committee on 13 September 2021. Areas of focus identified included: increased net income growth from tuition fees for existing on-campus programmes; an increase in online taught postgraduate provision, with plans to significantly scale up existing activity in partnership with an online programme management company; and further international expansion, for example in partnership with North American colleges.

It was planned that there would be a follow up Strategy Day in February 2022, with a primary focus on finance, drawing on analysis to inform the University’s three to five year financial plan. It was expected that, by that date, the Scottish Government would have progressed discussion and decision on the recommendations from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) Review of Coherence and Sustainability. The outcomes from the Spending Review would also be known and it was hoped that there would be greater clarity around the future pathway of the pandemic.

Land Development

This item was covered in the minutes from the meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 13 September 2021 (minute 13 refers). Members were advised that there would be opportunity for further discussion over the course of the Strategy Day.

Key Performance Indicator

Court RECEIVED the fourth quarter Key Performance Indicators (KPI) report (Court (21) 27). Introducing the paper, the Head of Planning advised that all figures would be confirmed as part of the 2020-21 outturn. The main updates from the report were:

  • Graduate Outcomes data had been published on the status of the 2018-19 graduating cohort, 15 months after graduation. QMU’s overall percentage for graduates entering graduate level jobs was 73% (fourth out of the modern universities in Scotland). The data remained experimental, but was contributing to league table performance nevertheless.
  • The National Student Survey (NSS) results for the University reported an overall satisfaction score of 79%. Whilst this percentage was below that achieved in the previous year, it was significantly above the University’s adjusted benchmark of 73%, and placed QMU third out of the modern universities in Scotland. COVID was judged to have impacted negatively across the HE sector. Against this challenging backdrop, it was pleasing to note that QMU had performed comparatively well.
  • Under HR excellence, it was noted that the University was the first modern UK University to retain the 10 year HR Excellence in HR Award. QMU had also been selected as a case study in good practice at UK level as part of the Culture, Employment and Development in Academic Research Survey (CEDARS).
  • With reference to student accommodation, by quarter four, there were 758 applications for student residences. Although not at full capacity (800), this was encouraging given the current situation and the planned reduced accommodation target of 760 for 2021/22 to accommodate fire safety works.
  • The financial position remained in line with the quarter three updates. Tuition fee income and income from research and knowledge exchange were forecast to be above or on budget, and, as expected, income from student accommodation was forecast to be below the initial budget.

Annual Report on Human Resource (Hr) Matters

Court RECEIVED a report from the Director of Operations and Finance (Court (21) 28). Members welcomed the report and some of the very positive developments noted therein. These included the University’s response to COVID, the launch of the revised Academic Workload Allocation Methodology (AWAM) model, enhanced induction arrangements, and continued engagement with the Aurora leadership initiative for women.

Scottish Funding Council: Annual Report on Institutional Review and Statement of Assurance.

Annual Report

The Assistant Secretary, Governance and Quality Enhancement, advised that the Report and accompanying Court Statement of Assurance were submitted annually to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) by 30 September. The purpose of the Report was to offer a high level, concise analysis of activities, highlighting the key findings, institutional actions and the impacts of these, sufficient to provide assurance to the SFC that the University was managing effectively quality assurance and delivering on enhancement.

In discussion, members noted and commended the extensive work that had been undertaken during the reporting period. Whilst it was clear that robust arrangements were in place to oversee assurance and enhancement activities, it was suggested that there might be scope, over the course of the academic session, to provide to the Court with early sight of some of the matters falling within the scope of the return. Further consideration would be given to the possibility of making available to Court members some of the routine quality reports that were subject to detailed analysis under the auspices of the Student Experience Committee and subsequently reported to the Senate for further discussion, information or approval, as appropriate.

Court APPROVED the Annual Report on Institution-led Review (COURT (21) 29).

Statement of Assurance

Court APPROVED the Statement of Assurance (Court (21) 30).

Compliance Report 2020-21

Court NOTED the report on areas of compliance activity from April to June 2021 (COURT (21) 31).

Finance and Estates Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Finance and Estates Committee held on 13 September 2021 (FEC (21) MINS 04). Members’ attention was brought to the update on land development (minute 4 refers). The Committee had endorsed the internal governance structure and the approach to resourcing of the project. The incorporation by the University of a subsidiary company (Newco) to progress consultant appointments while the full Joint Venture for the Edinburgh Innovation Park was formed had been discussed and approved.

Audit and Risk Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Audit and Risk Committee held on 22 September 2021 (ARC (21) MINS 04). There were no matters brought to members’ attention.


Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Senate held on 30 June 2021 (SEN (21) MINS 03). An update was provided on the development of transitional assessment regulations in response to COVID (minute 6.1.6 refers). The regulations had been updated most recently in September 2021 to offer continued flexibility to students, in the event that learning, teaching and assessment arrangements were negatively impacted by COVID during semester one of 2021-22. A further update would come to the Senate on 15 December 2021.

Nominations Committee

Court APPROVED the recommendation that Steven Hendry be appointed to the Finance and Estates Committee (FEC) with effect from 1 October 2021 (COURT (21) 32).

Equality and Diversity Committee

Court RECEIVED the minutes of the meeting of the Equality and Diversity Committee held on 17 June 2021 (EDC (21) MINS 04). There were no matters brought to members’ attention.

Dates of Future Meetings

The University Court would meet on the following dates in Session 2021-22:

1 December 2021 at 3.00 pm (to be held virtually)
23 February 2022 – Strategy Day (to be confirmed)
27 April 2022 at 3.00 pm (arrangements to be confirmed) 22 June 2022 at 3.00 pm (arrangements to be confirmed)