David Anderson – President’s Address

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The following is an extract from a speech given by the outgoing UCU Scotland President Dave Anderson.  The speech was delivered at a UCU hosted reception in Holyrood to friends, colleagues and invited guests from across political parties and the HE sector in Scotland.

“The past two years have been momentous for a whole host of reasons and UCU Scotland has played its part in ensuring that the case for higher education has been at the forefront of political and policy discussion. During the independence referendum campaign we adopted a neutral stance from the outset while encouraging members to participate in the debate. We produced our Manifesto for HE in Scotland which all parties engaged with and responded to, from the Government’s independence white paper to Scottish Labour’s support for free tuition the Manifesto ensured that the concerns of UCU Scotland members were paramount when higher education was discussed.

It isn’t only in constitutional matters that UCU Scotland has entered the debate.  It has been a priority for me to ensure that Universities remain at the heart of civic Scotland delivering cultural, social and economic benefits to the wider communities that higher education serves.  By that I mean not just delivering excellent research and teaching but doing so in an environment that recognises the importance of removing barriers and takes steps to tackle inequality.  The widening access commission can continue the good work already present in the sector and ensure that all potential students able to benefit from a university education have the opportunity to do so, and that university staff are in a position to provide support when they get there.

Universities must be a welcoming safe environment for all staff and students regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or background

UCU Scotland firmly believe that our universities must be a welcoming safe environment for all staff and students regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or background.  And while issues we face as universities inevitably reflect wider societal problems, that doesn’t excuse us from taking action to address potential problems.  This was why UCU Scotland along with NUS Scotland campaigned successfully for the removal of lads mags from university campus shops and continues to challenge a developing culture where there is a thin line between banter and gender violence.  Indeed, such is the clout of UCU Scotland that three days after our congress voted to campaign against lads mags, the magazine Nuts announced it was ceasing publication.

Universities in Scotland should rightly be held up as an example to wider civic society, not only by delivering excellent research and teaching but doing so in an environment that values and rewards all those who contribute to what makes up a University.  Every higher education institution in Scotland is now a living wage employer, something we should all welcome and UCU Scotland will be encouraging them all to seek full living wage accreditation status.

UCU Scotland has worked tirelessly to remove the use of zero hours contracts from core activities, believing that where work can be predicted and planned it should come with a contract of employment that recognises an individual’s ongoing commitment.  This is better for our members, better for the students taught and I believe better for the institution as a whole.  And I would like to exercise my presidential prerogative by congratulating colleagues in my institution, the University of Glasgow, where local union officers and management have jointly developed a procedure that enables tutors and others to be properly employed on proper contracts where previously zero hour contracts may have been used.

All of the work undertaken by UCU Scotland over the past two years has been informed and directed by policy set by members, but that policy and the activity it invokes, of everything UCU Scotland tackles comes from a clear understanding of the importance of university education, the value of our members contribution to wider society, and a passionately held vision of what universities should and could be to best benefit all within that society.  This vision isn’t solely mine but comes from all UCU Scotland members, staff and students within our universities and is informed by their experience and expertise.

There will come a time quite soon when all those with a vision of higher education in Scotland will have to come together, take forward the provisions of any new legislation and find a way of working together

The joint union conference held with colleagues from EIS-ULA and Unison last October provided an opportunity to further distil that vision. Titled Reimagining the University, it asked delegates three questions –  what are universities for; who do they belong to; and how should they be governed?  These questions prompted much debate – not least should it be “Who do universities belong to?” or rather “To whom do Universities belong?” – Conversations from that conference continued the process initiated with the evidence submitted to the von Prondzynski review into university governance and has continued to develop – from the publishing of the review’s recommendations to the governments own consultation on HE governance and now we await the publication of draft legislation which may move some of those conversations forward.

I don’t know what will be included in the draft bill, it may be that it doesn’t contain all that UCU Scotland members have been seeking or indeed all that Universities Scotland have called for – although I would be more than surprised if Principals were renamed CEOs as a result of this bill.  The government may strive for equality by ensuring all parties are equally unhappy by proposing a bill which goes too far for some and not far enough for others.

However the bill is drafted, and however much noise accompanies its progress through committee and parliament there will come a time quite soon when all those with a vision of higher education in Scotland will have to come together, take forward the provisions of any new legislation and find a way of working together to develop and improve university governance to meet the requirements of legislation, the challenges of this funding environment, and the expectations of our wider community.  University governance is to my mind the least significant of the three questions asked at our conference, but it does matter hugely in order to ensure that Scotland’s Universities are able to provide the fairness, equality and excellence in all their endeavours over the coming years.”