Transparent aims

October 22, 2015

I’m afraid that James Naismith has it seriously wrong when he suggests that the higher education governance bill in front of Scotland’s Parliament is based on “solutions without problems, conclusions without evidence and changes without analysis” (“Unenlightened bill”, Letters, 15 October). When the Von Prondzynski report was published in 2012, there were no female chairs in any of Scotland’s higher education institutions. That is some “non-problem”.

At that time, few universities published the minutes of their court meetings. In some universities, there was an inward-looking culture – a gentleman’s club atmosphere verging towards a closed business directors’ meeting. This is not the way to run a modern, highly skilled university sector.

Following the publication of the Von Prondzynski report, the courts have made some moves to get their respective houses in order. Women are now increasingly appointed as court chairs, minutes are more regularly published. However, recent University and College Union requests to Scotland’s universities on details of remuneration policies for principals and other senior staff have been met with blank responses from some and heavily redacted reports from others. This is a journey towards democratisation and transparency in Scotland’s higher education sector that still has far to go, which is why campus unions are fully behind the government’s bill.

Incidentally, bills are not “rammed through” the Scottish Parliament. The detailed reports of our contemplations can be found in our submissions to the Scottish government’s consultations on the bill – available on the website.

Douglas Chalmers
University and College Union Scotland

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Reader's comments (1)

Clause 1 of the Bill " GOVERNING BODIES Chairing of governing body Appointment as chairing member The chairing member of the governing body of a higher education institution is to be appointed in accordance with a process set out in regulations made by the Scottish Ministers. Regulations under this section may include (in particular) provision for— (a) periods of appointment (and whether reappointment is possible), (b) means of selection for appointment, for example through— (i) public advertisement, (ii) criteria for selection, (iii) interview of candidates, (iv) shortlisting of candidates, (v) holding an election from among candidates, (c) reimbursement of candidates’ expenses incurred in the process." The problems you outline to which I could add proper representation of professional / support staff, part time staff, post graduate students and non-traditional academic role staff. How are these problems solved by giving such wide powers to Ministers? What evidence is there this will improve governance? Does the situation at Glasgow Clyde impact upon the thinking here? "In some Universities" yes indeed, in some places all sorts of things happen. In some Universities, like St Andrews, we have four directly elected academics, one directly elected non-academic (the balance should be adjusted here), two directly elected students, one directly elected Chair (the Rector), a third student nominated by the Rector, two members directly elected by the graduates association and one member a local elected Councillor. Why then is there a one size fits all prescription? What best practice in the Scottish, UK, EU and international sectors were studied? I have the report, the consultation and the Bill and the final model is nowhere to be found. I know the UCU would like to have Union representation on all committees at all times. I am directly elected by my peers to serve on Court on a 70% turnout (I'd widen the franchise). How does replacing me by a person nominated by the local UCU (whose membership is significantly less than 70%) increase or enhance democracy? What evidence is that carrying out such a change improves governance? I am sure if David Cameron announced that from tomorow he would take powers to make sure governing bodies reflected British values and supported economic prosperity, UCU would not be in favour. The real nub is the issue of VC salary. Unfortunately to "solve" this issue and let's be honest here the only acceptable solution to the Scottish Government & the UCU is for the VC salaries to be roughly halved. I'd rather we were honest about this, rather than empty phrases about "democracy" and "transparency". It seems a poor reason to snuff out University autonomy. Once gone, it won't easily be recovered. As to ramming though parliament, I'd note in evidence to the committee the civil servant disclosed the Government was proceeding despite not having been able to read the many submissions. Reading the letter, you would get the impression the University system in Scotland was the Bullingdon club, (I've been accused (justly) of many things, but a member of a cozy gentleman's club aint one) and a failure. It is neither, it is demonstrably world class, a huge benefit to Scotland and beacon of civic life. Can it be improved, absolutely, Will this Bill improve things, in my view not a jot.

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