We Need to Talk About Rectors

Lucy Robb talks us through the ins and outs of the rectorial election

Although the semester feels like it has barely begun, the rectorial elections are already underway with the candidates having been formally announced on the 5 October. The voting process will start on the 12 October.

So, many of us (or definitely most freshers) are probably wondering what exactly Rectors are.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

The role of Rector has been around since the founding of the first Scottish universities in the 15th century and have been chosen by the students of St Andrews since 1858.  Until the mid-19th century, the Rector had to be a minister of the Church of Scotland, whereas now they tend to have an element of celebrity, with the election of John Cleese in 1970 preceding a trend for comedians or entertainers. Previously, they had mainly consisted of senior politicians from conservative and liberal parties.  The Rectors of St Andrews have a fairly prestigious history with John Stuart Mill being elected in 1865, Andrew Carnegie in 1901, Sir James Matthew Barrie in 1919 and Rudyard Kipling in 1922 – a few notable figures amongst many.

The Rectors of today, however, are expected to play a much more active role than the likes of John Stuart Mill who saw the role as purely honorary, made one speech and then disappeared for the rest of his three-year term.

The Rector plays a vital role in the running of the university as they oversee the meetings of the University Court where many important decisions, such as those regarding budget allocations and staff and student provisions, are reached. The Principal of the University is also accountable to the Court.  The Rector should be able to offer external perspective, be familiar with the views of the student community, be committed to the university as a whole and be available to visit St Andrews regularly. They are elected every three years.  They are assisted by a Rector’s assessor who serves as the main connection between the Rector and the students and also sits on the University Court as a full member. This position has been occupied by a student since 1970.

The candidates for the 2017 election are Srdja Popovic and Willie Rennie.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Sdrja Popovic is a Serbian political activist who advocates non-violence and successfully toppled a dictator. Popovic’s manifesto focuses on providing more access to affordable accommodation, improving the available transport and ensuring that students’ voices are heard. Additionally, Popovic’s manifesto aims to limit the impact of Brexit on the student community, promoting EU students’ rights in the UK and campaigning to protect the Erasmus scheme.

Willie Rennie is the Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats and MSP for North East Fife.  He has argued for improving mental health services In Scotland for young people. Rennie’s manifesto emphasises his already existing presence in St Andrews, his political connections and his desire to increase wellbeing and equal opportunities for the students of the university.  More information is available about each candidates’ manifesto on their respective Facebook campaign pages.

Photo: STV News

It is interesting to note how there has been a shift towards political figures as candidates in recent years, particularly those with liberal stances. This perhaps reflects the university’s current outlook and its students’ investment and interest in the politics of today as well as their hopes for a better future.



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