Executive Group

Our Convener, Vice-Convener and Director play key roles in the strategic direction of the organisation

Convener: Professor Dame Sally Mapstone

Our Convener, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone, determines our priorities for the term of her two-year office, chairs the Main Committee meeting of all Principals and identifies and builds consensus within the sector.

Sally was elected to the role of Convener by her peers and took up the position from 1 August 2022. She previously held the role of US Vice Convener from 2020-2022.

As Convener, Professor Mapstone believes the members of Universities Scotland collectively will face both challenges and opportunities over the next couple of years. We must make progress on how higher education is positioned in relation to the Scottish Government multi-year funding arrangements and the roll-out of the Scottish Funding Council’s Review of Coherent Provision and Sustainability. Members will also lead policy-making and activity in relation to the climate crisis; the research funding and innovation landscape; access and admissions; and student and staff mental health.

Professor Mapstone said “The diversity of our sector is one of its many strengths. We offer a spectrum of routes through higher education for students of all ages and backgrounds. We have depth, range, and an impressive record of partnership working in research and innovation, nationally and internationally. We are internationally recognised in the creative and fine arts. We support the NHS through our teaching hospitals and training of nurses and medical professionals. We have a significant and growing role to play in the entrepreneurship and enterprise space. We are never static but have shown ourselves to be adept at adaptation and restyle when it makes sense for us individually and collectively. We need to work constructively to build collective advantage where we can achieve it, within the spirit of our Vision 2030 with its focus on a prosperous, inclusive, and outward-looking nation with Scotland’s universities at its core.”

Professor Sally Mapstone, Principal of the University of St Andrews

Key Facts

  • Principal of: University of St Andrews.
  • Route into university: Sally attended her local grammar school in West London, and from there went up to Wadham College, Oxford.
  • Academic specialism: Older Scots Literature.
  • Career profile: Sally joined the University of St Andrews as Principal and Vice-Chancellor in September 2016. She had previously served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education and as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Personnel and Equality at the University of Oxford. She maintains a strong interest in access and diversity within the HE sector.

Read more about Sally’s academic career here.

Vice Convener: Sir Paul Grice

Sir Paul Grice was elected to serve as Vice Convener from August 2022.

The Vice Convener is elected every two years by fellow Principals. Together the two roles help to achieve broad representation across a diverse sector.

Since his appointment at Queen Margaret University, Sir Paul quickly established his commitment to the sector in Scotland by serving as the Convener of our Learning and Teaching Committee from 2020, where he worked closely on issues such as widening access, quality enhancement and skills. Paul is also a member of Universities Scotland’s Governance Group.

Sir Paul is passionate about the transformative impact that higher education can have on individuals as an engine for social justice. He sees opportunities across the sector, and wants to build a better understanding within government, its agencies and other stakeholders of the contribution universities make as a result of both their domestic and international work.

Key Facts

  • Principal of: Queen Margaret University.
  • Route into university: Paul grew up in York. He has a deep-felt personal commitment to widening participation in higher education having come to university through further education college.
  • Academic specialism: Paul has had a number of roles in higher education governance across different institutions. These roles have included a member of the Economic and Social Research Council, board member of Policy Scotland and fellowships of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Centre for Science and Policy.
  • Career profile: Paul held the position of Clerk and Chief Executive of the Scottish Parliament from its inception in 1999 until he joined QMU, leading the delivery of all services to the Parliament alongside acting as its principal adviser on procedural and constitutional matters.

Read more about Paul’s academic career here.

Director: Alastair Sim

Alastair Sim has been our Director since July 2009, joining from the Scottish Civil Service. The Director has chief executive responsibility for the management of the organisation.

Since 2009 he has built the Universities Scotland team and supported members through two Scottish election, three general elections, two referendums, several spending reviews, the student support review,  the Scottish Government’s project on the learner journey and preparation for Brexit. He has represented Universities Scotland in Parliament and in the media, and has served on many committees and working groups developing policy affecting higher education.

As a senior civil servant, Alastair developed new Scottish legislation on protection of the natural environment and on constitutional reform and was most latterly Director of Policy and Strategy at the Scottish Courts before joining Universities Scotland. Among other roles he served as Private Secretary to Ministers in the Commons and the Lords.

Alastair holds degrees from OxfordDelaware and Glasgow universities (where he was a student and an executive director at the same time) and studied for the CIPR Diploma in Public Affairs at Queen Margaret University. He has had two thrillers published: Rosslyn Blood (2004) and The Unbelievers (2009).

Alastair holds a number of non-executive board positions at Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (since 2009), Scottish Council for Development and Industry (since 2020) and is an Advisory Board Member for Disclosure Scotland  (since January 2023).