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by Prof George Boyne, University of Aberdeen
25 November 2022
Associate Feature: A foundation built on civic impact

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Associate Feature: A foundation built on civic impact

The University of Aberdeen was established on a civic foundation more than 527 years ago. 

 In so many ways our founder, Bishop Elphinstone, was ahead of his time when he set out the institution’s purpose to be ‘open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others’, recognising the need to deliver positive change locally and regionally.

 That is a commitment which has remained steadfast for more than five centuries. More recently, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic underlined the critical role universities play in their communities, and the higher education sector’s commitment to a civic agenda has also been evidenced by regional collaborative activities such as the development of Civic University Agreements (CUAs). 

 Here at Aberdeen we have signed up to the Civic University Network and have pledged to develop a CUA, which will provide a framework for a ‘systematic and strategic approach’ to enhancing our significant regional impact. 

 This will support the co-ordination and oversight of our growing links with local partners, underpinning the commitments made in our new vision for the future – Aberdeen 2040 – a strategy with the regional economy, community, culture and environment at its core. 

 Aberdeen is in a unique position as it transitions away from an economic reliance on the oil and gas sector and the University has a central role to play in that transformation. 

 To support this work, we appointed Professor Peter Edwards as Vice-Principal for Regional Engagement. He leads the partnership working essential in addressing this and other challenges faced in the north-east. 

 The benefit of such an approach is exemplified by the BioHub, due to open in the New Year. The University is proud to be one of the partners in this innovative project led by Opportunity North East (ONE) which will become the nucleus of the life sciences cluster in the region, helping to grow businesses, nurture new commercialisation opportunities and connect academics and health researchers to industry. 

 Collaboration is also key to energy transition and already we are making a positive impact through the National Decommissioning Centre and our Centre for Energy Transition, working with a host of industry partners from SMEs to large multinational organisations.

 The University has ideas, people and facilities which can all be mobilised for the benefit of the region and we are expanding our partnerships with a range of stakeholders, large and small. Working with our key local partners via the local Community Planning Partnership and other multi sector and multi-agency partnerships, the University continues to build on its understanding of local and regional needs and where its civic impact can be strengthened.

 The University’s Bounds counselling centre harnesses expertise from our School of Education, providing a freely available counselling service to the local community and a platform for high quality research to inform practice, policy, theory and education.

 Our students also engage in community wealth building projects. Recently they supported Tillydrone Development Community Trust to secure £250,000 of funding to restore one of Aberdeen’s remaining medieval houses for community use. 

 Our staff engage with school pupils and adult learners across the region in partnership with employability and engagement partners, including Aberdeen Football Club Charitable Trust. Training and upskilling opportunities for individuals and organisations will play a crucial role in meeting the challenging economic circumstances arising from the pandemic, local and global market changes and the growing cost of living crisis.

 Since 1495 the University of Aberdeen has been open to all and dedicated to the pursuit of truth in the service of others; that civic impact continues to be as important today as it was at our foundation.


Professor George Boyne is Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen 

This article is sponsored by the University of Aberdeen

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