Scotland knows its rogues

February 2, 1996

Governing bodies in Scottish higher education institutions are of a very high quality and are the first line of public accountability, the Nolan committee on standards in public life heard this week.

John Sizer, chief executive of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, ruled out a more regulatory role for the council during the committee's hearings in Edinburgh. Governors took their responsibilities very seriously, and were fully aware of SHEFC's expectations in using public funds for the purposes intended, he said.

Council member Robert Jack suggested that scandals were less likely in Scotland since its small size meant everyone knew everyone else. "You know who the rogues are," he said, adding that it was perhaps part of the Presbyterian ethos that strong views on honesty permeated public institutions.

Both SHEFC and the Association of Scottish Colleges are reviewing whether lay governors should be paid, but this was generally unpopular among witnesses to the committee. Several institutions warned that payment might spur governors to become too involved in the day-to-day running of the college rather than concentrating on institutional strategy.

Professor Sizer said that as demands on lay members grew because of financial pressures on institutions, payment to attract high-calibre governors might become inevitable. But there was no evidence that institutions were facing recruitment difficulties.

Edinburgh University has urged the committee to investigate apparent Government suppression of research reports arguing it is contrary to open government principles, and is causing "real tensions" between academics and commissioning bodies.

Principal Sir Stewart Sutherland said that while academics wanted their work to be in the public arena, there was reluctance on the part of politicians to publish findings until they felt it was "a time conducive to the formation of public policy".

Edinburgh claimed that commercially sponsored research was being left unpublished, even after allowing for commercial delays.

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