In praise of the higher education bill

March 17, 2016

The passing of the Higher Education Governance Bill in Scotland’s Parliament by an overwhelming vote should surely hearten all those who seek to open up university governance to more democratic approaches in the UK. Measures to ensure elected chairs of court (senior lay governors) by staff and students, while safeguarding and somewhat enhancing the role of traditional rectors, can only send the message that moves towards transparency in governance are still possible in the sector.

The additional measures that will lead to statutory representation of trade unions on courts (in addition to existing staff and student places) is a further welcome acknowledgement by the Scottish legislature of the positive role of trade unions in society. In addition, the decision that the majority of those on university senates should now be elected helps to move the direction of academic decision-making back towards academics rather than managers, which is too often the case.

The fact that, in the run-up to key Scottish elections, the Scottish National Party government sustained the support of Labour and the Greens in passing (and improving) this legislation is surely a sign of grown-up politics, and all parties should be thanked for this. It is to be hoped that university management and university courts in Scotland will cooperate fully in implementing the letter and the spirit of this legislation.

Douglas Chalmers
University and College Union Scotland

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