Scotland's draft governance code ‘weak and meaningless'

A new draft code of governance for Scottish universities has been condemned as “weak”, “meaningless in places” and offering “nothing new” by student and academic unions north of the border.

April 16, 2013

The code, drawn up the chairs of Scottish universities’ governing bodies, makes recommendations on issues included the composition of remuneration committees and equality and diversity targets.

Some of the code’s recommendations include:

- Committees should be “careful” not to agree to severance payments for staff “which staff, students and the public might reasonably deem excessive”

- Remuneration committees should include three independent members

- These committees should produce a report with “sufficient detail of the broad criteria and policies” used to award pay levels

- Governing bodies must establish goals on the “equality and diversity” of their composition

- The proceedings of the governing body should only be withheld if they relate to “confidentiality relating to individuals, the wider interest of the Institution or the public interest demands”

The code was drawn up following a recommendation by a report into university governance chaired by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, released in January 2012.

But none of the von Prondzynski report’s most significant recommendations, including quotas for women on governing boards, more staff and student representation on boards, and a ban on bonuses for vice-chancellors, have made it into the draft code.

Robin Parker, chairman of the National Union of Students Scotland, said: “We always said having university chairs making up their own code on governance would risk a weak code. It now seems this risk has been realised.

“The original von Prondzynski review came up with a set of recommendations which the sector as a whole signed up to.

“The code of governance was meant to find a way to apply these across the sector. Instead, what we’ve seen is those recommendations being cherry picked and watered down to become almost meaningless in places,” Mr Parker added.

The Educational Institute of Scotland, one of the unions that represents academic staff in the country, said that it was “disappointed” with the code, “as it seems to offer nothing new to improve HE governance or accountability”.

“In fact the main aim of the draft code seems to reinforce the autonomy of universities and consolidate existing power structures,” a statement from the union said.

Universities Scotland described it as a “progressive code which would set Scotland’s universities at the leading edge of accountable governance amongst all of Europe”.

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