The vice-chancellor who led a review of Scottish university governance has welcomed planned legislation that would require governing bodies to have elected chairs and to include student, staff and union representatives.
Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal of Robert Gordon University, said the Holyrood government’s proposed higher education bill “addresses the key issues that remained to be addressed”.
The bill would implement key recommendations of Professor von Prondzynski’s review, which reported in 2012, but publication of a consultation on the proposals divided opinion last week, with Universities Scotland arguing that a new governance code agreed by institutions had already prompted major strides towards increased transparency and accountability.
Pete Downes, the association’s convenor and the principal of the University of Dundee, questioned whether some of the Scottish National Party administration’s proposals were “appropriate subjects for government policy or legislation”.
NUS Scotland, meanwhile, highlighted the absence of certain outstanding recommendations, including the suggestions that remuneration committees dealing with senior managers’ salaries should include staff and student representatives, and that senior staff including principals could be included in the national pay spine.
Professor von Prondzynski told Times Higher Education that the legislation would “further protect” institutional autonomy and academic freedom while supporting the goals of transparency and wider engagement in decision-making.
“My impression of the document is that it addresses the key issues that remained to be addressed from the report my panel produced,” said Professor von Prondzynski.
“The code of governance produced by the Scottish chairs made major improvements but some issues could not be dealt with that way.”
Professor von Prondzynski acknowledged the importance of the remuneration issue raised by the NUS but argued that this was “probably not a matter for legislation”.
Announcing the consultation, Scottish education secretary Michael Russell said he was seeking the transfer of powers from Westminster to enable him to enact a further key recommendation from the review – a requirement for 40 per cent of the membership of governing bodies to be female.
Other proposals in the consultation include legislation that would require academic boards to be the final arbiters on academic matters, and for elected members to be in the majority on the panels.
Meanwhile, the bill would all but end the role of the Privy Council in Scottish university governance.