The Scottish government has called for more devolution to allow for the reintroduction of post-study work visas north of the border, with the country’s education secretary warning that immigration restrictions were cutting off the “lifeblood” of universities.
The Scottish National Party’s submission to the Smith Commission – the panel that will draw up recommendations on which additional powers should be passed to Holyrood – says that the reinstatement of visas that allowed graduates to work in the UK for two years after completing their studies would enable Scotland to “attract talented individuals from around the world”.
These visas were abolished by the UK government in 2012, and the SNP’s proposals to the commission argue that this was at least partly responsible for a reduction in the number of international students coming to Scotland.
Speaking at a conference in Edinburgh on 9 October, Scottish education secretary Michael Russell said it was “absolutely obvious” that immigration controls should be devolved. “The lifeblood of universities is the free exchange of scholars and students, and if that is impeded by the immigration system, which it is, then you are cutting off something exceptionally important,” he said.
An initiative called Fresh Talent allowed graduates to stay in Scotland and to seek work for two years after graduation between 2005 and 2008, and Mr Russell said that Quebec – which has separate immigration procedures from the rest of Canada – proved that such a system was workable.
The Scottish Green Party is the only other party to call for devolution of some immigration controls in the wake of the independence referendum, with the main Westminster parties arguing that these should be reserved for the UK government.
Mr Russell, who was speaking at the Reimagining the University conference organised by trade unions, also confirmed that he was committed to implementing recommendations for university governance made by a panel led by Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University.
He said he anticipated that legislation would be introduced before the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections, including a requirement for the chairs of governing bodies to be elected by staff and students.
The von Prondzynski review called for governing bodies to be at least 40 per cent female, and Mr Russell said that he would be “very keen” to include specific gender rules in the bill if the Scottish government was given the power to do so.
Mr Russell also ruled out “market testing” of the Quality Assurance Agency in Scotland in the face of the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s announcement that it would invite external bodies to bid for the watchdog’s work.
Another speaker at the conference was Kezia Dugdale, the Scottish Labour shadow education secretary, who said that she was “very hopeful” that her party would be able to rule out the introduction of tuition fees north of the border.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said in 2012 that keeping undergraduate study free was “not viable”, but Ms Dugdale struck a different tone while cautioning that funding also had to be found to widen access and reduce dropout rates.
Pressed on whether her party would rule out tuition fees in its manifesto, Ms Dugdale added: “That is the direction of travel we are committed to going in.”
Principal grievances: Management and bullying
Allegations of bullying or unfair treatment have been behind more than two-thirds of grievance cases dealt with by a union in Scottish higher education, a new analysis reveals.
The Educational Institute of Scotland reviewed the casework that it had dealt with in the sector since 2008 after a survey it commissioned revealed earlier this year that 23 per cent of the respondents from its University Lecturers’ Association blamed stress on dealing with management, compared with 10 per cent across education as a whole.
The review found that, of the 114 EIS-ULA cases examined, 77 involved allegations of bullying by colleagues or allegations of management treating the complainant less favourably than co-workers.
A report on the findings says that the number of cases seems “high” for an association with a membership of 1,300, and suggests that this is higher than the totals for the school and college sectors – hypothesising that increased workloads for staff who remain after voluntary redundancy programmes have been completed might be to blame.
It adds that, while the majority of cases were settled after representation, a “small but increasing number” led to severance under agreed terms.
“It is clear that EIS-ULA members have a lower opinion of their management and leadership teams than EIS members do as a whole,” the report concludes. “It is clear that EIS-ULA members report more problems with their colleagues than EIS members as a whole.”
The EIS survey found that one in three higher education members who responded said that they felt stressed all the time, with 60 per cent stating that they got stressed “occasionally”. Forty-two per cent blamed their workload for stress.
Only 14 per cent of higher education respondents said that their university adopted a collegiate approach to management, and just 15 per cent said that their institution used a model where leadership was shared among staff – far lower than other education sectors.
Speaking at the Reimagining the University conference in Edinburgh on 9 October, Robin McAlpine, director of thinktank the Jimmy Reid Foundation, said that managers’ focus on key performance indicators had eroded collegiality in Scottish higher education.