Union anger at exclusion from Scots task force

August 28, 2008

Scotland's task force on the future of higher education has been criticised by the lecturers' trade union as a small, elite group that is failing to bring staff into the debate.

The task force is made up of representatives from Universities Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and the Scottish Government.

But the University and College Union last week campaigned outside a summit that had been arranged to debate the interim findings of the group. It warned that key issues were not being addressed and said there was an urgent need for full consultation involving all stakeholders.

The union is angry at a proposal that the three task force bodies form a Tripartite Advisory Body on university funding. It warned it would have "neither democratic accountability nor law-given authority".

Proposals for a "lighter touch" relationship between the SFC and the institutions that the council funds and regulates have also drawn union criticism. It called for clarification of what happened if university administrations failed to meet their obligations to staff, students or the public. The light touch must be "from a hand attached to a strong arm", it said.

The UCU was also concerned by what it considered a mistaken emphasis on higher education's direct benefits to the economy. The union produced an alternative vision based on a "people-centred approach", including, for example, a shift from fixed-term contracts to secure employment, and continuing professional development for all staff.

A Universities Scotland spokesman said: "Let's be clear. Nobody is undermining the trade unions. The case for the representatives of employees to be closely involved with matters of income distribution across the entire university sector is hard to make. We are not trying to emasculate the trade unions and in turn they should be more realistic about the contribution they have to bring."

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The task force is now seeking the views of stakeholders on how the principles set out in the interim report can be taken forward and the trade unions have an important role in that discussion."

olga.wojtas@tsleducation.com.

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