One of the distinguishing features of UK higher education is the way that devolution has allowed England to diverge from the norm as a result of the business model of higher education increasingly supported at Westminster.
In Scotland, the model has remained more focused on the European approach, with the absence of tuition fees for Scottish students, and every higher education institution expected to carry out both research and teaching – with a four-year honours degree (a Scottish speciality) still standard.
And the role of the University and College Union has been paramount in winning and maintaining this. Although, like others, our members’ views varied on independence, the UCU adopted a neutral standpoint in the referendum but argued for a set of shared values and demands irrespective of outcome – and these included improved democracy in the sector.
This now looks on the verge of being achieved with the publishing of the Scottish government’s bill to expand the definition of academic freedom, to legislate for trade union nominees (and students) on all governing bodies, and to ensure the election of chairs of court by the wider university committee – both staff and students (“Scottish governance bill emphasises ‘accountability’”, News, 25 June). In addition, governing academic bodies, such as senate, will be expected to have a majority of elected members from staff.
These measures are moving towards fruition because the UCU has, in addition to the activity outlined in your feature “Backstage hands” (25 June), always adopted a political position of seeking to help to set the educational agenda by supporting a range of democratic initiatives in addition to the key ones of improving wages and conditions.
Only by acting like a real community and representing the wider aspirations of its members – which must link into the political context such as the tremendous changes here in the Scottish body politic – can a union maintain its position and grow.