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Higher education to be more open and accountable

17 June 2015 | last updated: 27 March 2020

UCU Scotland today welcomed the publication of a bill by the Scottish Government which will introduce new measures to make the governance of higher education institutions more transparent, and enable the election of chairs.

The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill takes forward a number of recommendations from the 2012 review of governance in Scottish universities and other higher education institutions, chaired by Robert Gordon University Principal, Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski.

The bill will:

  • require higher education institutions ("HEIs") to appoint the chair of their governing body in accordance with an agreed, consistent process. Through this, the Scottish Government aims to introduce elected chairs for the governing bodies of all Scottish higher education institutions
  • ensure that staff, students and trade unions are included in the membership of HEI governing bodies
  • limit the membership of academic boards to no more than 120 people
  • strengthen the current statutory definition of academic freedom by explicitly protecting the freedom to develop and advance new ideas and innovative proposals

Commenting on the publication of bill, Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, said: 'UCU members have been campaigning for the reform of higher education governance for many years. We welcome the publication of the bill as a major step forward in reforming how our universities are governed.

'UCU members want universities that are more democratic, representative, and transparent, and we'll be working to ensure that the chairs of university governing bodies are elected by the people with the biggest interest in the success of our universities - the staff and students who learn, teach and carry out research there.'

The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning Angela Constance said: 'Our universities are outstanding. We have four in the top 200 international rankings and we are committed to supporting excellence across the sector. The aim of this bill is to give all our universities even stronger foundations to work from.

'These proposals will create a more modern and accountable framework of governance for our higher education institutions to work within. Crucially, they will give a greater voice to students and staff. The bill also explicitly strengthens academic freedom to drive forward progressive and innovative ideas.

'We want the public to have total confidence in how our universities operate. That's why we are enabling the higher education sector to adopt transparency and inclusion as key governing principles, and ensure that more light is shone on decision making processes.

'I am grateful to Professor von Prondzynski for his Commission's early work in setting out the course for reform. Throughout the process of developing this bill, we have listened carefully to all stakeholders. I look forward to hearing further constructive views raised in evidence and as we debate the detail of the bill to make our universities even stronger.'

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president-elect, said: 'We're glad to see this Bill being taken forward, and we welcome the Scottish Government's aim to increase student and staff representation and strengthen the democratic processes across higher education governance. As public institutions that rightly receive over a billion pounds from the public purse every year, it's important that our universities are driven by the fundamental principles of democracy, transparency and accountability.

'The introduction of the draft Bill presents an important opportunity for us to create a strong framework of governance that will benefit our universities, as well as the staff, students and communities they serve. We look forward to working across the Parliament and the sector to ensure that the final legislation puts students and staff at the heart of higher education governance, while respecting the commitment to responsible autonomy for our universities.'

Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski said: 'It is vitally important that Scotland's universities reinforce their undoubted success in learning and scholarship by demonstrating openness, transparency and inclusiveness.

'The Bill will significantly support our higher education system in demonstrating both democratic accountability and intellectual integrity, as part of a society that values learning and discovery.'