Unions rally behind whistleblowing policy

November 3, 1995

University and college lecturers' unions have called for sweeping changes in the governance of institutions in evidence presented to the Nolan Committee this week.

All universities should be governed by means of a charter to ensure openness and public accountability, and to guarantee the representation of staff, students and local interest groups on governing bodies, the Association of University Teachers said.

The AUT was joined by Natfhe, the university and college lecturers' union, in calling for "gagging" clauses in staff contracts to be outlawed, and for "whistleblowing" by staff in cases of inappropriate conduct within institutions to be supported by new codes of practice.

And both unions wanted rules to prevent unnecessary confidentiality in governing body procedures, and to discourage delegation of central decisions to sub-committees, which they claim makes misuse of power by chief executives easier.

The AUT's submission argues that the absence of old university-style charter arrangements in the governance of new universities has allowed "problematic" decisions to be taken, leading to crises and controversies like those at Portsmouth and Huddersfield universities.

Charters should require the setting up of resource committees to link funding and academic decision-making, audit committees to determine and make public the salaries and other benefits of senior management as well as vice chancellors, and a special committee responsible for selection of vice chancellors or principals.

The AUT also wants institutions to create ethics committees and carry out an annual ethics audit; and to include a statement of ethical standards alongside their mission statements, which should explicitly support whistleblowing.

Natfhe points out that current laws have led to new university and college governing bodies becoming narrow and self-perpetuating, with governors in both further and higher education being drawn from small and select circles.

While university heads were still composing their own submissions this week, the Association for Colleges and the Colleges' Employers' Forum put forward evidence which suggested that FE institutions were unlikely to favour too many new rules and restrictions.

Their paper warns: "College corporations are established as autonomous bodies, and increased prescription as to the mechanisms by which new members are selected would not only tend to undermine their professionalism in managing that process, but would also remove some of the flexibility necessary to respond to local circumstances."

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