Executive Group

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

Convener: Professor Iain Gillespie

Our Convener, Professor Iain Gillespie, determines our priorities for the term of his two-year office, he chairs the Main Committee meeting of all Principals and identifies and builds consensus within the sector.

Iain was elected to the role of Convener by his peers and took up the position from 1 August 2023. He previously held the Convener role of our Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee.

As Convener, Iain will ensure that the sector is both confident and visible in articulating the future shape of the post-16 landscape in Scotland, following a series of policy strategies and reviews in spring/summer 2023. Iain believes that university autonomy is required to support student success, closer partnerships and the scale of economic transformation that Government wants to see delivered.

Iain intends to work openly and inclusively with universities’ full range of stakeholders, from students and staff, schools and colleges, to the business community and private sector.

Key Facts

  • Principal of: University of Dundee.
  • Route into university: Iain was born and raised in Edinburgh and obtained both a Bachelor’s degree and a Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.
  • Academic specialism: Microbiology.
  • Career profile: Iain Gillespie has been Principal and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Dundee since January 2021. Prior to that he was Pro Vice Chancellor, Research and Enterprise at the University of Leicester. During his time in Leicester, Iain led their £100M Space Park development, the designation of the UK’s first Life Science Opportunity Zone at Charnwood, and the university’s Global Strategy.He was formerly Director of Science and Innovation at the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK’s leading funder for environmental science, and was lead director for international research across all seven UK research councils that are now part of UKRI.

    Prior to NERC, Iain was Visiting Professor in innovation in the life sciences at the University of Edinburgh. He spent 10 years at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) leading work on science, technology and innovation, where he initiated the concept of a “Bioeconomy” and oversaw its subsequent widespread use in innovation systems planning internationally. He also secured the Noordwijk Medicines Agenda, overseen personally by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, a ground-breaking international agreement uniting developed and developing countries as well as the global pharmaceutical industry and NGOs in a pact to develop new medicines for emerging and neglected diseases of the poor. Iain spent more than a decade in UK central government, with science-based roles in the Cabinet Office, and the Departments of Environment, of Trade and Industry and of Health. He has had considerable engagement at UN and regional international level, as well as in UK domestic policy and enterprise relations. Iain led the UK in negotiations for a new EU Regulation on Orphan Drugs. Iain was the UK’s lead in the UNESCO Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights and was the UK delegate for the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

    Iain is a Founding Trustee of the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and a member of Genome Canada’s Science and Industry Advisory Committee. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology.

Read more about Iain’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).