In a moving address at our Dubai Graduations this week, Syed Uzir (President of the Heriot-Watt Dubai Student Council) shared with the many hundreds of guests attending the four ceremonies the power of pausing to take time to celebrate, express thanks and acknowledge distance travelled. It had the feel of a special moment of clocking hard work and determination of students, challenging circumstances for families, respect and appreciation of staff. In true UAE style there was quite a buzz to the ceremony and my first (and possibly last!) encounter with an armoury of confetti cannon that were timed to detonate as we concluded the ceremonials. It was certainly a special time and certainly a celebration. It was a pleasure to confer an honorary degree on Samuel Abrahams for his astonishing humanitarian life-long project to assure first aid training that has saved countless lives in Africa. This was an initiative and life adventure initiated as a society of the Students Union funded by the Watt Club. What impact! We will feature this story and Sam’s inspirational address to students on future occasions. Thank you to everyone involved in making these ceremonies so special – during not only our Bicentennial year, but also the 50th anniversary of the UAE. It was certainly lovely to celebrate together at last.

This paves the way for Edinburgh graduations, starting on Saturday 4 December, where Professor Biggs and I will welcome graduates from both 2020 and 2021 onto campus. Oriam will provide the venue for the ceremonies this year to allow more safe space to operate in. We may not get the same warm weather as Dubai, but I’m sure we will get the same excitement and enjoyment!

There was a further confetti cannon moment last week with the announcement of our award of the most prestigious UK research accolade – the Queen’s Anniversary Prize – which are awarded in recognition of longstanding and high impact research. My congratulations to the colleagues in optical and quantum science for their success and my thanks to Professor Jones in guiding the rigorous adjudication processes. Further details are given here. Winning entries, awarded by The Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister, are required to demonstrate excellence, innovation and public benefit to the wider world, and are described as the highest national honour awarded in UK further and higher education. The prize will be awarded in a ceremony with the Chancellor and members of the Research Group and collaborators in February next year. This is the fourth occasion we have won a QAP.

Next week, at Expo2020 in the UK Pavilion, the University will be leading out on a conference on The Future of Education with key partners engaging in a full day of debate and discussion that centre on the vital role universities have to play in helping people prepare and transition into new ways of working, and in developing the necessary skills and leadership qualities for the future. The meeting includes contributions from The British Ambassador, the new head of QAA, staff and students from Heriot-Watt. We look forward to hearing the outcomes from that and future opportunities that arise.

Professor Richard A. Williams
Principal and Vice-Chancellor