Complaints claim jeopardises UHI project

August 18, 2000

The University of the Highlands and Islands project was this week desperate to reassure ministers about its progress as it braced itself for a report into alleged complaints about chief executive Brian Duffield.

The Scottish Executive has made no decision on designating the UHI as a higher education institution, although the Pounds 100 million project had aimed for full university status by this year.

The UHI's bid for designation has been overshadowed by Kenneth Mackay's investigation into alleged complaints against Professor Duffield.

Mr Mackay's remit is not to investigate whether the allegations are true. He is reviewing process rather than substance - how the alleged complaints were received and handled.

It is hoped that Mr Mackay's review will clear up the confusion, given that the UHI said in June it had received no such complaints from staff. The UHI claimed that while it had formal grievance procedures agreed with the staff association, nobody had used these.

But Jack Dale, consultant to the Association of University Teachers Scotland, has accused UHI management of intimidation through a clause that warned staff they would face disciplinary action if they made "unsubstantiated" claims.

Mr Dale said this was unprecedented. Management had not recognised the union, but had set up a staff association that could not be considered independent.

Scottish ministers have outlined concerns about the relationship between UHI central management and the 14 further education colleges and research institutes that are its academic partners.

UHI is understood to have told the Scottish Executive that it would be the "provider", not merely the validating body, for higher education among the partners. Higher education students would be enrolled with UHI rather than with partner institution, avoiding any risk of students being registered and funded twice.

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