A packed Committee Room 1 of the Scottish Parliament heard calls for bringing democracy to the present system of University Governance – widely seen as ‘not fit for purpose’, in the view of university staff from the majority of Scotland’s universities. MSPs from the governing SNP, and from Labour and the Greens were clearly disturbed by the reports given to them about lack of serious governance by respective university courts from staff across the sector, following the lobby, organised by the UCU and EIS on 25th May.
The anger amongst those who are beginning to find out about how governance is exercised was shown in the intervention in the discussion by Nationalist MSP Bill Kidd who had visited GCU and spoken to staff several times over the past year. Stating his opinion that “I don’t think these people are fit to be in charge of the University”, he went on to call for “a complete overhaul of the governance of universities and colleges.” Clare Baker, Labour’s shadow spokeswoman on Education stated to the meeting “You have made a very strong case for the need to look at governance and we will support moves towards this”. This was echoed by Green Party leader Patrick Harvie who added “Management need to act as leaders of a community, not as CEOs of a business”
Representing the unions at GCU, Brian Pillans updated those present on the victory achieved by the unions at GCU. This had shown what was possible, and he thanked parties of all colours for their support and their pressure on management. This support had also come from the students, the media and the wider community, without whose support the victory would not have been won. This victory had been at great and needless cost to staff however, due to the totally unnecessary actions of senior management who had followed a flawed strategy from the beginning, rather than working with the unions.
On the question of future changes to governance, Brian suggested that those who argued for universities to be run as a business could not ignore the accountability which was was now built into private sector governance following necessary reforms. Some serious work needed carried out on practical mechanisms which would continue to guarantee academic independence of the sector, but also ensure that the use of public money was always transparent and those using it were accountable to the wider community.
During the meeting MSPs were clearly surprised at the level of salaries being paid to senior management and to university principals, details of which are downloadable here.
Eyebrows were also raised at the number of senior staff at GCU earning more than the First Minister of Scotland, and indeed, more than the Prime Minister David Cameron.
Outside in the lobby, the media had been interested in the cupcakes representing the salaries of University principals. These included the salary of our own at £182,000, not including pensions and other benefits.
As well as the cupcakes providing sustenance, Liam Burns, outgoing NUS president offered support and students from the threatened music course at Strathclyde University entertained the crowd (as did a mysterious ‘fat-cat’ who members may also recall seeing at similar events at GCU).
Further photos can be found on Caledonian Union’s flickr site here