First the “what” then the “how” – more on HE governance

picBy Dave Anderson, UCU Scotland President

Last week Holyrood.com ran a headline declaringA University is not John LewisThe headline was above an interview I gave discussing UCU Scotland’s current campaign on university governance.

Indeed universities are not John Lewis, or Amazon, Tesco or any other large corporate entity with a focus on profit and a primary responsibility to maximise returns for shareholders.  As I said to Hollyrood.com “Universities are a collegiate body of staff and students working within their local community” to deliver learning, teaching, scholarship and research to meet the cultural, civic and economic needs of Scotland and the wider international community.

Governance models shape the operation and direction of organisations, which is why the current HE governance code, produced by the Scottish Chairs of Courts and which borrows much from corporations and the private sector, serves our universities so poorly.  There are many examples of failures in corporate governance, from the banking crisis to misreporting of financial statements, but these are not of themselves why a business based governance model is inappropriate for HE. Fundamentally our university sector in Scotland depends on the collegiate nature of academic endeavour, where freedom of enquiry is protected and encouraged, and where engagement and involvement is drawn as widely as possible. In short universities are not a business and should not be governed as such.

In any discussion of governance before deciding on the “how” it is essential to agree on the “what”.  It was partly in an attempt to address the “what” that UCU Scotland joined with other campus unions to host the “Re-imagining the University” conference in October 2014. This conference posed the questions: What are Universities for? Who do they belong to? How should they be governed?  The overwhelming view expressed was that Scotland’s universities should remain primarily publicly funded; with a requirement to promote the public good through education and research; with governance structures that were democratic, transparent and accountable and that provided an academic voice (staff and student) in decision making at all levels.

Kezia Dugdale, then Labour Education spokesperson, used her address to the conference to signal Scottish Labour’s wish to continue with no undergraduate student fees (and hence further underline the “public” nature of Scotland’s HE institutions) while the then Cabinet Secretary Michael Russell again made clear his support for the von Prondzynski report and of the SNP governments commitment to legislate for full implementation of the report’s recommendations.

Angela Constance as Education Secretary is to be congratulated for taking forward that commitment to legislate.  The response of Principals and Chairs of Court is as disappointing as it is unsurprising.  In submissions to the von Prondzynski review as well as in their subsequent adoption of a “new” code of governance, university leaders have argued that nothing should be changed, indeed suggesting that any tinkering risks the excellence already achieved.  Such stasis will only enshrine overbearing managerialism, with targets and performance indicators replacing the academic freedom and true innovation essential to an institution’s long term future. 

Radical measures are needed to protect and grow Scotland’s public higher education system.  Accountable and transparent governance structures which fully involve staff and students, with Rectors democratically elected and empowered to chair university courts, where campus union nominees can express a range of opinions and where the composition of governing bodies properly reflects diversity and equality may not appear particularly radical, but it would be a start.

Dave Anderson
UCUS President

“A university is not John Lewis” – Holyrood Magazine interviews UCUS President Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson UCU Scotland

Holyrood Magazine has featured an exclusive interview with UCUS President Dave Anderson on UCU’s current governance campaign.

In the article Dave argues that:

“…there is a head of steam building behind our arguments, in terms of democracy, transparency and accountability.  It’s very difficult to argue against any of those. Certainly speaking to people in the parliament they understand why that’s important. While universities remain autonomous, and should remain autonomous, making them democratic and accountable doesn’t damage that. If anything it protects that.

“A university is not John Lewis. That’s where things are being directed, that there’s a bottom line institutions are working to, and the role of university court is to ensure that bottom line shows a surplus rather than a deficit.”

To read the whole interview, visit the Holyrood Magazine website here.

STUC Lobbying of Scottish Party Conferences

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The STUC General Council will be undertaking lobbies of the four main party conferences taking place over the next few months in Scotland.

As part of the Decent Work, Dignified Lives campaign the STUC will distribute leaflets at and around the events as well as holding public meetings. During March, they will publish their manifesto for Decent Work and continue to campaign for fair pay and trade union rights as a key element in the battle against austerity.

Undernoted are the dates of the lobbying activities. The first event is at the Tory Party conference in Edinburgh on Friday 20th February, where the STUC will be distributing an ‘alternative guide to Tory Party conference’ highlighting the impact of cuts and attacks on pay and conditions on the workers, businesses and public services upon which any public event rallies. 

Further details of the events can be found at www.ajustscotland.org .  The site is also linked for the STUC main site.  Details will go live on Monday 2 February.  Updates will also be provided at www.facebook.com/forabetterway and on twitter using the hashtag #decentwork

We hope that UCUS branches will provide support for these events by advertising them, transporting activists to the events and through your own media and social media activities.

Events

Scottish Tory Party Conference 20th February – Edinburgh, EICC

Scottish Labour Party Conference 7th March 2015 – Edinburgh, EICC

Scottish Liberal Party Democrat Conference 20-21st March – Aberdeen, AECC

Scottish National Party Conference Saturday 28thMarch – Glasgow, SECC