Reimagining the University Conference

On 9 October UCU Scotland joined with our sister campus trade unions EIS and UNISON to organise a conference focusing on the future of higher education in Scotland after the referendum.  The conference, titled ‘Reimagining the University’, asked three fundamental questions of importance not just to UCU Scotland members and staff in our universities, but also to the sector generally and the wider community.  More than 130 delegates came together to ask what are our universities in Scotland for; who do they belong to; and how should they be governed?

The importance and topicality of that debate was shown by the prominence of the keynote speakers who were drawn to come and speak and engage with UCU members on the day.  The Cabinet Secretary for Education Mike Russell gave the keynote speech; with significant other contributions from Kezia Dugdale MSP, Labour’s education spokesperson, and the chair of the Scottish Funding Council, Professor Alice Brown.

UCUS President Dave Anderson

UCUS President Dave Anderson

There was good press coverage from the main addresses to the conference with Chris Havergal from the Times Higher Education writing an article on Mike Russell calling for more powers for the Scottish Parliament to allow post study work visas for international students and committing the Scottish Government to legislate on outstanding elements of the von Prondzynski review including elected chairs of governing bodies.  The conference also heard Kezia Dugdale indicate the direction of travel on student funding in her party and that she was hopeful they would rule out the introduction of tuition fees in Scotland.

These are important and significant announcements and support the broad policy positions of UCU Scotland and the other unions on student funding and HE governance.  But the conference wasn’t just about politicians giving prewritten speeches from the top table.  There were important discussions amongst delegates on the three issues the conference examined during the breakout sessions with contributions from a number of contributors who had been invited to help inform the discussion.  These included Professor Mike Neary from the University of Lincoln who outlined their ‘student as producer’ programme and the steps being taken locally to pursue a co-operative model of higher education provision.  Other speakers included Liam Kane form the University of Glasgow, green party activist and Rector at Edinburgh University Peter McColl, Robin McAlpine from the Common Weal campaign and student leaders from NUS Scotland including current President Gordon Maloney, who reiterated his and NUS Scotland’s support for UCUS in the pensions dispute.

Kezia Dugdale MSP

Kezia Dugdale MSP

The answers to the three questions posed at the start of the conference – what are universities for; who do they belong to and how should they be governed – are too big to be satisfactorily answered in a single day at a conference in Edinburgh.  However we did make significant progress.  We do know now that there will be Scottish Government legislation to tackle some of the governance issues that the von Prondzynski review highlighted.  And we also know that when UCU engages with Scotland’s politicians, of all parties, that we can influence them to the benefit of the sector we work in.  We need to continue to do that as individual members, in our branches and as a national union.  At a Scottish level we’ll be working to draw out some of the main themes from the conference, holding the politicians to account and to argue for universities and institutions that are publically funded without student tuition fees; that are well governed and accountable to staff and the communities they exist in; and which don’t use zero hours or casualised contracts for staff.

You can view highlights from the conference below.

Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell

Alice Brown, Scottish Funding Council

Kezia Dugdale MSP

Robin Parker

How Should Universities be Governed? (full debate)

Democratic Governance

UCU Scotland President Dave Anderson writes on democratic governance in universities in a post-referendum Scotland…

Democracy has never been more in vogue in Scotland.  An incredible 97% of Scotland’s adults registered to vote in last month’s independence referendum, with actual turnout passing 90% in a number of areas.  The level of engagement and debate has been impressive to say the least.  Yet Scotland’s university sector continues to shy away from any notion of democracy, however limited.

It wasn’t too long ago that academic leaders in several Universities were elected by their peers rather than appointed by their managers.  The move to managerial appointments has inevitably hastened the adoption of other managerial practices, for example “performance management”, which undermine collegiality and threaten the very academic freedom our institutions should be seeking to protect.

The recommendations of the von Prondzynski review into Higher Education in Scotland did not go so far as suggesting that universities should roll back to a time when Deans or even Principals were elected and hence answerable to the academic community.  The review panel’s report highlights the importance of collegiality and democracy in decision making, and recommends that this can be best addresses by the election of a Rector to chair university governing bodies.  An elected chair, with an electorate drawn from the most obvious university community, i.e. students and staff, may seem like a small concession compared to the democratic influence enjoyed previously but even this has been avoided in the new “Scottish Code of Good HE Governance” prepared by the Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC).

Perhaps this reluctance to embrace democracy shouldn’t be surprising.  The CSC submission to von Prondzynski review stated “Universities are complex, multi-million pound businesses and it is essential that the chairs of the governing bodies have the requisite skills and are fully committed to the strategic interests of the institutions…. it is not clear that the role of rector is still required”
Quite who determines the “strategic interests of the institutions” I shall leave for moment – but the CSC’s distrust of student and staff involvement in any significant democratic decision making is clear and has been reflected in the governance code they have prepared.

Clearly there is much to be done for those who believe that student and staff involvement and engagement in the running of our universities is essential to defend academic freedom and the distinctive nature of our institutions.  While the adoption of the CSC code is disappointing there is still plenty to suggest that democracy will return to our institutions.  The most recent letter of guidance from the Cabinet Secretary to the Scottish Funding Council stated that “Refinement of governance arrangements in our Higher Education Institutions will help embed a modern, democratic and accountable higher education sector”

The joint campus unions conference “Re-imagining the University” will provide an opportunity for the sector as a whole to consider what Universities are for, who do they belong to and how should they be governed.  The question of how a “modern, democratic and accountable” university will be achieved remains to be answered.  What is clear is that those who see universities as places of useful learning, cultural development and economic improvement rather than simply “multi-million pound businesses” will have to work hard to achieve democratic accountability.

Dundee UAF March Against the SDL

UAF Dundee is organising a Yes & No Unite Against Fascism march against the racist SDL when they come to Dundee on Saturday, October 11. Please invite friends family and workmates along to show their racism and division is not welcome. If you are in a union or campaign, please get your local branch to sign the Unity Statement below and publicise it to your members and contacts.

Unity Statement – YES & NO Unite Against Fascism march Sat, 11thOctober, Dundee

We the undersigned strongly oppose the upcoming protest by the racist and fascist Scottish Defence League in Dundee on Saturday 11th October 2014. Whether we voted YES or NO in the Scottish referendum we stand united in our hostility to the fascist SDL’s presence in Dundee.

Dundee is a multicultural city. The people of Dundee welcome citizens from around the world with two universities with significant numbers of international students. Neither Dundee’s residents nor the students the universities attract wish to be confronted by racists.

The SDL is a racist organisation with an established record of mounting protests which regularly feature racist chanting, placards and Nazi salutes. At their demonstration in Dundee last year, the SDL held placards of the ‘Swastika’ emblem of the openly racist and Nazi Greek party, ‘Golden Dawn’. They

attack​ed two members of the public in the street following their protest.

The SDL claims not to be extremist, but earlier this year two members of the SDL were jailed for provocatively attacking Edinburgh Central Mosque with bacon, whilst SDL member Derek Phin was jailed for threatening to burn down the same mosque when an anti-racism meeting was taking place inside.

The SDL have dedicated their hateful existence to attacking Asian people and Muslims. Islamophobia – bigotry against Muslims is as unacceptable as any other form of racism. Its aim is to divide us by making scapegoats of one community, just as the Nazis did with the Jews in the 1930s. Today they threaten Muslims. Tomorrow it could be Jewish people, Hindus, Sikhs, black people, lesbians and gay men, travellers or East Europeans.

We believe that it is vital that we unite together and act to stop the rise of racist and fascist organisations at home and show solidarity to those opposing fascism elsewhere. We cannot allow them to spread their racist and Islamophobic hatred and violence in our community. We have to continue to oppose fascists when they march. There is no place for Nazis or racists in our multiracial, multicultural and multi-faith community.

Please publicise the Unite Against Fascism counter demonstration on the 11th October and join us to show that we are the many and they the few.

March assembles 12pm City Square, Dundee, Sat 11th October. Please keep in touch with us via the following as march details may change.

UAF Dundee
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