GCU unions to help make universities accountable

Democracy iconAt the start of October 2014, the UCU, EIS, Unison and Unite, held a joint conference in Edinburgh looking towards the future and entitled ‘Re-imagining the University’. Major statements on the future of Higher Education were made by Mike Russell, Kezia Dugdale, Alice Brown, and Robin Parker. The major speakers from the conference can be seen on video here.

One of the clear themes from the conference was the need for more legislation to improve the governance of our universities – something that has now begun to take shape with the Scottish government’s consultation paper on improving democracy in Higher Education – found here.

The process originated with the review of Higher Education Governance chaired by RGU Principal Ferdinand Von Prondzyinski in 2011/2012. This review (which can be found here) was very critical of the existing situation regarding democracy in the sector, and called for wide ranging change.  A summarised version of the report’s recommendations can be found here. Here’s how we reported it in the blog at the the time. Mike Russell, the Cabinet Secretary for Education declared following its publication that  “he had accepted virtually all of the recommendations in Professor von Prondzynski’s report”

Following the publication of the review, the chairs of court of Scottish universities,  took the initiative of drafting a new code of governance for the Scottish universities. Unfortunately, despite the Cabinet Secretary for Education’s direction that students and staff should be included on the steering group, no NUS or trade union representative was invited to be a member of the committee drafting the new code.

The resulting code (found here)  was criticised by the UCU as a code ‘for managers, written by managers’ and on publication, the code received negative press reviews from the academic unions.

Were the unions right to be sceptical about the integrity of the re-written code?

If local evidence was the norm, then the evidence suggests that they were. At the meeting held for representatives of staff at GCU, no notes whatsoever were taken by the representative of the chairs of court who came to ascertain our views. Neither were the full questions at issue covered ‘due to pressures of time’.  Nine members of staff were present at the meeting, seven of whom stated themselves to be representatives of GCU unions. The official report by the chairs of court however blandly states that of the 9 staff members who took part “A record was not kept as to whether union representatives were amongst the staff”.

It is hard to take a meeting like this seriously. In our view this was slipshod practice which suggested that more weight would be given to those saying what the chairs of court wished to hear, rather than dissenting views. As a matter of record, none of the dissenting views expressed by GCU staff were accepted by the committee re-writing the code.

The chairs of court have recently published a vindication of their activities one year on which argued that there was little need for any further action, or legislation.

The combined unions at GCU do not agree with this position, and are asking their members to contribute to the consultative paper produced by the Scottish government, and to continue to argue the case for meaningful and democratic change.

We intend to develop this argument in the period up to the Consultation Paper’s closing date – 30th January 2015. Watch this space……….

Addendum: Here’s how the issue was reported on the BBC on January 14th

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