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Aberdeen University rips up £300k P&J Live deal with vote to return graduations to campus

The move has been hailed as a "victory for student voices", with many eager to enjoy the big moment in picturesque Old Aberdeen.

Aberdeen University graduations are returning to the campus.
Molly Parsons of Achmore graduated at the Old Aberdeen campus in 2018. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Aberdeen University has voted to rip up a contract with P&J Live – opting to instead return graduations to its historic campus.

Chiefs at the ancient institution shifted the ceremonies to the arena on the outskirts of the city after the pandemic.

Bosses said it was “difficult but essential” to move away from their Old Aberdeen home.

Aberdeen University graduations campus
Honorary graduates in 2018: Carol Main, Susan Neave, Donna Wilkie and Claire Reith. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

And they had been poised to ink a new deal with the arena to stage 2024 events there.

However, things took a dramatic twist today.

Students have been calling for the chance to mark the milestone at the scenic campus, rather than the Bucksburn entertainment complex seven miles away.

They wanted to continue in the footsteps of the thousands who have finished their time at Aberdeen University around the stunning grounds, dating back to the 15th Century.

Aberdeen University graduations left the campus for Teca after Covid
Mask-wearing winter graduates in 2021 at P&J Live. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

And The Gaudie newspaper campaigned for members of the senate to use their voting power.

It came to a head in a crunch meeting this afternoon.

Why did things change in the first place?

Initially, the shift to the modern events complex was put down to the need for social distancing during the Covid pandemic.

A spokeswoman later claimed Elphinstone Hall – which sits about 400 people – could no longer cope with the number of graduands.

Aberdeen University graduations campus
University graduations at Elphinstone Hall. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

How did students feel?

By last year, unrest was mounting.

Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart urged principal George Boyne to reconsider, having been contacted by “extremely disappointed” students.

He blasted the arena as a “generic setting with no meaning to the students”.

Students at P&J Live in the summer of 2022. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson

Student Tomás Pizarro-Escuti wrote this summer that graduations are “not merely events”.

In student newspaper The Gaudie, he said: “They are meaningful rituals that deserve a setting with genuine historical and cultural importance.”

And 86% of about 200 students polled on the issue urged the senate to axe the P&J Live deal.

What happened at the meeting?

Prior to the meeting, university chiefs informed senators that “negotiations to hold summer and winter 2024 graduations at P&J Live” had already happened, and contracts were “ready to sign.”

They were also told that the ceremonies cost about £300,000 to stage at the complex.

But members of the senate committee seemed to agree with the student body, with a thumping 77-22 vote against staging ceremonies at P&J Live.

They raised concerns about the Bucksburn location and a lack of connection to the Old Aberdeen campus.

Do you agree with the decision? Let us know in our comments section below

When will Aberdeen University graduations return to campus?

The change will not apply to the winter graduations later this month.

An Aberdeen University spokeswoman told us that “further planning” will now be needed to work out how to hold the events outside Kings College in 2024.

She added: “Options include the use of Elphinstone Hall with ceremonies running over additional days and the use of a marquee to increase the available capacity.”

It comes after the university reintroduced charges for people attending the upcoming winter graduations.

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