Scots at the controls

October 25, 1996

I read with considerable surprise an article in the Scottish Educational Journal falsely alleging that at the Trades Union Congress I had attacked the role of a Scottish parliament in relation to universities, an issue covered by The THES (September 20).

It is a pity when the members of one union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, are disinformed about another, the Association of University Teachers. Fortunately the truth cannot be disguised because the TUC records speeches verbatim. I said that AUT wholly supports the creation of a Scottish parliament, believes it should have tax-raising powers and that the funding system for higher education should be answerable to the people of Scotland. We voted for this and if that is what EIS means by "control", we are at one.

However, our difficulty is with the EIS wording at the TUC that politicians should have "full control over I all aspects" of university education. Historic charters and expressions of independence in the Universities of Scotland Acts fortunately prevent that.

They ensure that politicians cannot suppress studies to which they object - I recall Sir Keith Joseph's unsuccessful attempts with women's studies and social economics, for example. And they ensure that politicians cannot prevent research and publication of sensitive issues like those recently brought to public attention by university scientists working on mad cow disease.

It is unimportant which politicians are involved or in which jurisdiction. A Unesco protocol due in 1998 will specify these rights of independence as worldwide requirements. All academics will be delighted. Who on earth would want politicians in full control of all aspects of university education? Except politicians, of course.

David Triesman General secretary Association of University Teachers.

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