How We Work

We create & shape policy that supports our higher education institutions to be successful

We develop our funding and policy positions by working very closely with Principals and other senior staff in our higher education institutions.

Our policy committees cover three broad areas and meet regularly four or five times a year. They are led by two Principals in the role of chair and vice-chair and all of our 19 members are represented. The conveners are nominated by their peers for two years with the possibility of one re-election.

Our committees make recommendations on policy which pass to the Main Committee of all Principals to be discussed and decided upon.

We also have a number of smaller policy groups to focus on other issues. The membership of these groups can include Finance Directors, Head of Planning, Secretaries, Heads of External Affairs and others, depending on the group’s focus. They are always led by a Principal. Policy groups will always be representative of the sector’s diversity but not every university is necessarily a member.

Our three-year Strategic Plan for 2018-2021 outlines how we will help our members achieve their shared vision for higher education. The strategy is guided by four main themes: ambition; the common good; trust; and new ways of working. These priorities will shape what we deliver for members over the next three years.

Learning and Teaching Committee

Convener: Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal of the University of the West of Scotland

Vice Convener: We are currently running an election for this position.

Current priorities:

  • Considering how to take account of UK quality and regulatory developments that may have implications for the Scottish sector.
  • Contributing to the ongoing implementation of Working to Widen Access, the sector’s response to the Commission on Widening Access.
  • Developing a response to the Scottish Government’s final report of the Learner Journey, which contained various recommendations of interest to universities.
  • Discussing how the sector should take account of the ongoing development of the Graduate Apprenticeships programme.
Craig Mahoney

Research and Knowledge Exchange Committee

Convener: Professor Wayne Powell, Principal of Scotland’s Rural College – SRUC

Vice Convener:  We are currently running an election for this position.

Current priorities:

  • Representing the Scottish sector interests in the development and activities of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
  • Developing Universities Scotland’s policy position on issues such as the Knowledge Exchange Framework, Universities Innovation Fund, Shared Prosperity Fund and the Research Excellence Framework.
  • Maximising the opportunities of the UK Industrial Strategy in Scotland.
  • Supporting the sector to perform well in Official Development Assistance-related funding.

International Committee

Convener: Professor Richard A Williams, Principal of Heriot-Watt University

Vice Convener: Professor Clive Mulholland, Principal of the University of the Highlands and Islands

Current Priorities:

  • Working to progress the work of Connected Scotland which promotes Scottish HE internationally.
  • Campaigning for the reintroduction of a post study work route for Scotland following the Smith Commission recommendation. Work with the Scottish Government and UK Government to develop a workable policy for Scotland.
  • Influencing policy on the promotion, funding and management of student mobility.
  • Undertaking activities to position Scottish higher education internationally and promote study in Scotland.
  • Developing policy to support people who are fleeing violence and persecution and looking to enter higher education in Scotland.

Funding Policy Group

Convener: Professor Nigel Seaton, Principal of Abertay University

Vice Convener: Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal of the University of Edinburgh

Current Priorities:

  • HE funding and the spending review.
  • University Outcome Agreements.
  • Capital funding.
  • Engagement with the Enterprise and Skills Strategic Board
  • Implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Universities Scotland Efficiencies Taskforce

Convener:  Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal of the University of the West of Scotland

Vice Convener: We are currently running an election for this position.

Current Priorities:

  • Taking forward the sector’s efficiency strategy across the areas of procurement, shared services, ICT, business process management, estates and carbon reduction.
  • Implementing a three-year work programme which includes scoping new shared services, exploring new collaborative procurement opportunities, catalysing progress in the use of IT to enhance institutions’ operations and promoting improvements in supply chain technology.
  • Capturing and publicising measures taken by institutions to increase efficiency, to track progress and help share best practice.
Craig Mahoney

Secretaries Group

The Secretaries Group is not one of Universities Scotland’s Committees however Universities Scotland and the Secretaries Group have worked closely together for a number of years. The Secretaries Group is a professional network of staff with responsibility for effective governance and for management of professional services.

Convener: Dr Jim McGeorge, University Secretary, University of Dundee

Current Priorities:

  • Implementation of the 2016 Higher Education Governance Act and the revised Scottish Code of Good HE Governance.
  • Advancing and evidencing the sector’s progress on gender equality, including at the level of governing bodies.
  • Co-coordinating the roll-out of Equally Safe in Higher Education and exchanging best practice on prevention of and responses to gender-based violence.
  • Liaison with the sector’s Prevent group.

Lead Members

As well as convening policy committees, Principals also lead on other important sector-wide issues. They drive policy development and engage with a variety of stakeholders, representing the sector.

The term of office for Lead Members is 2 years, with the possibility of serving a second term. For AY 2018/19, Universities Scotland Lead Members cover Health, Mental Health and Gender-based violence.

Professor Andrea Nolan

Our Convener, Professor Andrea Nolan, also holds the role of Lead Member for Gender-Based Violence (GBV). This is a new role, created in early 2018, to lead the sector’s work preventing and tackling the issue of GBV. The first project delivered in September was to create and distribute 150,000 wallet-sized cards containing helpline numbers to support staff in every college and university should they need to respond to a disclosure of GBV. Other priorities include revision of the UUK/Pinsent Mason Guidelines for student misconduct to reflect Scottish policy and legislation in gender-based based violence. Andrea will also support the sector with the implementation of the Equally Safe Toolkit, as required by the Funding Council’s Letter of Guidance, and the development of local and regional university partnerships with Rape Crisis centres.

mathieosn image

Professor Peter Mathieson, Principal of the University of Edinburgh, is the Lead Member for Health. Peter is responsible for taking the strategic lead  on issues relating to controlled subjects in health (medicine, dentistry and nursing and midwifery). Current priorities including engaging closely with the development of Outcome Agreements in this space and the numbers (and processes around determining) student places.


Professor Pamela Gillies, Principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, is the Lead Member for Mental Health. As Lead Member, Pamela will develop and advocate for Universities Scotland’s position(s) in the area of student mental health. This is a new role for AY 2018/19 and the initial focus will be on working with the sector and partners to progress work on the Universities Scotland position.