The importance of a university Business Committee

The importance of a university Business Committee

by Peter de Vink
article from Monday 13, January, 2020

YOU MAY NOT have heard of it but the University of Edinburgh’s General Council consists of graduates, academic staff and members of the supreme governing body of the university, the University Court:

The General Council of the University of Edinburgh shall consist of – (a) all persons on whom the University has conferred a degree other than an Honorary Degree, whose names shall be recorded in the Register of Graduates referred to in section 3 of this Ordinance, in accordance with the provisions of this Ordinance; (b) all persons on whom the University has conferred an Honorary Degree or on whom it has conferred the title of Honorary Fellow of the University; (c) during their tenure of office- (i) the Chancellor of the University; (ii) the members of the University Court; (iii) the Professors of the University; (iv) all Readers, Senior Lecturers, and Lecturers in the University who have held any such office for a period of one year; (d) former members of the University Court and former Professors who have elected to pay the statutory registration fee, if any; (e) former Readers, Senior Lecturers and Lecturers who have retired after holding any such office in the University for a period of three years and who have elected to do so.

It has a statutory right to comment on matters which affect the well-being and prosperity of the University, with the aim of ensuring that graduates have a continuing voice in the management of its affairs. The General Council elects the University's Chancellor, three Assessors to the University Court and its own Business Committee. It also has the responsibility of maintaining a register of all University of Edinburgh graduates.

Members of the General Council are kept in touch with its activities through regular communications and by checking its website regularly. They are encouraged to take an active part by communicating with the Secretary by email or via the interactive section of the website, and also encouraged to attend the Half-Yearly Meetings in February and June and to stand for election to the Business Committee.

In summary the General Council has three main areas of responsibility – Formal or Statutory, Influencing and Advising the University and as Ambassadors of the University. The total number of General Council members worldwide as at 1st August 2019 was 230,012.

The latest elections for the General Council’s Business Committee are about to take place. Here’s why I want to be elected to that body.

Although a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, I was in my early 30s when I was invited to join the Court of Heriot Watt University and served on it for twelve years – it was an exciting time moving from the building in the Grassmarket to the outskirts of Edinburgh at Riccarton.  I was instrumental in making Heriot Watt a hotbed for Offshore Engineering and I hugely enjoyed my time there.

Then when I came off the Court I was invited to join the Higher Education institute that became Napier University.  Originally the Scottish equivalent of a polytechnic it became a University during my period there, we had an exciting time moving into much larger campus facilities just like Heriot Watt had. I did this also for twelve years.

When I was at the Heriot Watt Court the University of Edinburgh had two academics who had great vision, both were proud socialists but capitalist in their thinking. Professor John Mackintosh, who died so young, and his Reader, Henry Drucker, both felt that the University of Edinburgh should stop relying so much on government funding and start a development fund. This went down with the then Principal like a lead balloon.

I shared John and Henry’s views on obtaining development funding to be obtained but it stopped me getting on the Court of Edinburgh which is what I had set my sights on. John died early while a Labour MP and Henry, now also dead, went to the University of Oxford where he was hired to raise £80M. As his referee I told Oxford’s Vice Chancellor that Henry could easily raise four times that – and after ten years Henry achieved £350M and founded his Oxford philanthropic business.  He started raising money for the Labour Party with Lord Levy when I resigned as a non-executive director.

Today Edinburgh has been staggeringly successful in raising funds, initially by Young Dawkins who raised the largest sums ever for a Scottish higher education institution, and now with Chris Cox.

I owe the University of Edinburgh so much for my own success as it was solely responsible for my subsequent achievements and I hope by joining the Business Committee I will be able to return some of the good it did for me. 

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