Category Archives: Governance

How to re-imagine a university – our university

Imagine…… a real University for the Common Good

University in Rainbow
A real rainbow reflects the talent of our staff

Have you ever imagined……. what would happen if GCU could be re-made, and re-imagined, run and resourced in a manner that was based on the vision, outlook and understanding of its staff and students?

What would the university look like in 2030 – how would our vision of the university differ from that of GCU’s official 2030 strategy?

In short how would a university such as ours – the University for the Common Good – operate in a post-pandemic world?

Last year, the UCU in Scotland published our vision of what we believe should be the future for Higher Education in Scotland. You can download it below. We want to look at what this means for us in GCU.

Already we have seen a massive shift in the way that many staff – mostly academic – have had to work, on-line and from home. Our professional and support staff have also been affected by pandemic working in a different and often more difficult manner.

The effect of Brexit has brought about the end of Erasmus student exchanges, and is transforming the student base that we have operated with for many years. 

During the pandemic, the experience of our existing students has been turned upside down in many ways, and the whole sector is facing uncertainty – with rising inflation now looming, and the Scottish government – although much friendlier to the sector than the UK government – are looking at re-organising the college and university sector over the next few years.

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Glasgow Caledonian Staff and students show support for democratic change

What's not to like about more democracy?

What’s not to like about more democracy?

Postcards supporting democratic change were being signed at the rate of more than one a minute, during a brief lunchtime pop up stall run by the UCU at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Almost 70 pledges of support for change – and in favour of taking current Scottish government proposals for change even further – were signed by staff of all grades, from catering staff right up to management.

The Scottish government has asked for views on reforming governance to be sent to themselves by January 30th, and the unions at Glasgow Caledonian will be submitting a response, arguing for the full implementation of the Von Prondzynski reforms promised some time ago.

UCU local president Douglas Chalmers (who is the academic staff governor on GCU Court) said: “What’s not to like about more democracy? Universities should be embracing this change, not trying to minimise it. It’s not ‘change for change sake’ but is a well thought out set of proposals which will maximise academic freedom, and allow the tapping in to the energies and talents of university staff – and indeed students – rather than falling into the dangers of a business model of Higher Education. I commend those supporting, and involved in today’s action, which I’m sure is representative of wider staff and student feeling. All the unions in Glasgow Caledonian are in favour of this change”. 

Further photos of the event which was popular and very good natured can be found on the caledonianunion flickr feed here.

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

Caledonian UCU Annual General Meeting looks forward to 2015

Scottish President David Anderson brought greetings from the UCU Scottish Executive

Scottish President David Anderson brought greetings from the UCU Scotland Executive

Banners,  bulletins and big ideas were among the topics discussed at the UCU’s seventh Annual General Meeting held in the last week of Trimester A.

Clare Hunter led a discussion on the proposed banner motifs and keywords that would best express our aims as key representatives of the University community, championing the concept of a University for the Common Good,  working with sister unions and with the wider student community in a challenging environment for Scottish Higher Education.

Local President Douglas Chalmers gave a brief resumé of the year’s work, which had led to our highest ever membership and our strongest financial position so far.

Branch Secretary Brian Pillans reported on current negotiations over the workload model, the anti-casualisation strategy and other ongoing issues, while Membership Secretary and Vice-President Catriona Mowat gave an analysis of our membership – which, at 61 percent female, accurately represented the gender balance at university.

David Anderson, Scottish President, brought the greetings of the Scottish Executive in the form of his Santa’s wish list (which he said was still suspiciously like last year’s). However, he was pleased to say that it was more likely that next year’s list wouldn’t include Governance, as the Scottish Government now seemed to be moving to legislate on it.


For those who could wait behind, some seasonal refreshment

The branch discussed and passed three resolutions for our forthcoming UK conference. For our overall conference (HE and FE), we are proposing   The UCU in the post constitutional referendum period, and for the HE Sector conference we are putting forward Campaigning for increasing Democracy in the HE Sector and Facing outwards as an Educational Trade Union. These were agreed in principal, although it was noted some needed to be cut down slightly in length.

For the Scottish conference we unanimously adopted four resolutions – The role of the STUC in Scottish Politics and Moves towards better Governance together with Constructing an action plan for growth and Creating a Postgraduate Network in Scotland. For the first time we also elected a postgrad rep onto our branch committee, to join the existing branch committee, which was re-elected.

The branch also elected delegates to the UK and Scottish conferences.

Caledonian Unions say – vote for Douglas Chalmers for GCU Court

The combined union committee comprising of UCU, EIS, Unison and Unite, have asked their members to vote for Douglas Chalmers for the vacant academic staff position on Court,  in the elections this Thursday 13th June.

This follows the news that Davena Rankin was elected unopposed as Support Staff representative.

Thursday’s voting comes at a time when the Scottish government are expected to implement the findings of the commission into HE governance chaired by Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski which reported earlier in the year. This was extremely critical of the current functioning of existing university Court structures and called for widespread reform.

Following this, the existing chairs of Court set up their own commission to draw up a code of conduct – a process which however excluded direct involvement of staff and student voice on their commission, in direct contradiction of the suggestions of Education minister Mike Russell. These court-led meetings were generally perceived to be shambolic – with no minutes taken and a widespread perception existing that this was essentially an undemocratic manoeuvre taken by the existing power structures within university courts, to defend their privileged nature.

Douglas is for radical change in the way the Courts operate.

Said Douglas Chalmers: “I am fully behind the implementation of the suggested reforms to Court functioning and governance. I have a proven track record of arguing for Courts to be more open to the voice of all staff and indeed the whole university community. I believe the chairs should be elected, the gender balance should be improved, the minutes published, and the presumption should be openness rather than the reverse. I hope all academic colleagues will support me in pushing for our university to follow in the direction of radical change and to become a beacon of good practice”.

A short interview with Douglas on some of the relevant issues can be found here.

Remember Thursday 13th June: Vote Douglas Chalmers for Academic Staff Representative.

GCU Unions convey best wishes to new Chancellor Yunus

Members of all university unions were present at the inaugural ceremony installing Professor Muhammad Yunus as new Chancellor of the University on Friday 26th October.

During his installation, Professor Yunus spoke of the need for universities to solve global problems, but suggested that the biggest challenge was often right next to campus – within the neighbourhood.  Drawing on his own experience, he developed the idea of the ‘village’ as  a real university saying that ‘without community engagement, the concept of a university is empty – the village is a real university‘. He praised the potential in this generation of young people, suggesting they could be the most powerful generation ever – in fact he wondered if young people were yet aware of their real powers. He suggested young people needed to ‘redesign’ the whole system – ‘before the system trashes you, trash that sort of system‘. Arguing that, if taught correctly young people could create jobs, not just seek them – he believed that universities were not factories to make ‘jobseekers’ – each human being could ‘create a new world‘. This world as at present was ‘finished’. We needed to aim for the next 25 years, where poverty didn’t belong to human society. He finished by arguing that young people were not ” ‘future leaders’, they were leaders already, and that universities should help make that happen“.

Student president Carla Fyfe brought welcome from the student community

During the ceremony, which had been opened by Principal Pamela Gillies,  Student President Carla Fyfe welcomed the Chancellor on behalf of the students, and Cabinet Secretary Mike Russell also spoke welcoming the Chancellor.

Mike Russell – Government continues to support free education

Of interest to the unions, and the university community as a whole, Mike Russell stated that the Scottish government didn’t want to administer a glorified poor law from Westminster, and also talked of how education changed lives, which was why the Scottish government would continue to invest in it. He also pledged continuing Scottish government support for free education.

Local UCU President Douglas Chalmers brought Professor Yunus the greetings of the unions at GCU

Following the ceremony, Professor Yunus informally spoke to members of the university community during lunch, and during this was pleased to receive the congratulations of the university unions, from UCU branch president Douglas Chalmers, during which he thanked the unions for their support, telling them “I’m looking forward to seeing more of you.”