Tag Archives: Court

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.

Co-hosting a divisive speech by the Prime Minister – a misreading of our role in society say GCU Unions

Glasgow Caledonian, not Glasgow Cameronian University

Glasgow Caledonian, not Glasgow Cameronian University

Campus trade unions expressed their extreme concern today at the University’s decision to co-host an event  in the London Velodrome together with the British government, where David Cameron used his office as Prime minister to set out his case against independence. Widely trailed on the BBC and other broadcasters the day before as a major intervention by the Prime Minister into the independence debate, Court members were only informed the night before the event,  that the speech – promoted as a ‘business development’ opportunity – would even take place.

Following public criticism of the university’s action by social media commentators Derek Bateman and from pro independence website NewsnetScotland, the GCU student VP Education and the Daily Record, the university subsequently issued a statement explaining its actions, including its inability to give notice due to ‘an embargo imposed by the Prime Minister’s office in the light of security issues’

According to the Campus Unions who issued the attached statement today, they had been ‘inundated with messages of disbelief’ from members of staff’ about the decision to co-host the event. Amongst the points made by the joint unions were: ‘This was not an academic seminar on the benefits held on the University Campus. This was not a debate on the upcoming referendum. This was David Cameron MP setting out his case against independence using his office as Prime Minister – the speech was published by the Cabinet Office’. 

The statement goes on to say: ‘Independence is a contentious issue in Scotland. Amongst the unions and workers at Glasgow Caledonian University there are mixed views on how people should vote in September. One of our unions, the UCU actually organised a debate amongst their members on the referendum this week.’

The campus unions have put a number of questions to university management regarding the decision to co-host this event, and the prominent use of the university image. They have also sought more information on the ‘Global Leadership Seminars’ and their future, and also on the associated costs of the Velodrome event.

In a communication to the joint unions, the university’s head of communications Charles McGhee has re-iterated that ‘The University has publicly stated that it will continue to maintain a neutral stance on the referendum and other political issues. However, GCU encourages open and robust debate on a wide range of issues and sees it as part of its role to help facilitate such discussions’.

The combined unions and the staff they represent will be watching this space closely to see exactly how such discussion facilitation will proceed in the immediate future in order to regain the perception that Glasgow Caledonian does take a neutral stance – something which would not be the public view at the moment.

Union backed candidates successful in Court election

Ballot paper

The success of Douglas Chalmers in a contested election, and Davena Rankin elected unopposed in the recent ballots for staff governors to the GCU court, is a sign that staff are backing the reforms in university Governance promoted by both candidates, according to Dr Nick McKerrell, chair of the Combined Union Committee at GCU.

Interviewed by the Caledonianunion blog after being informed of his success – with a resounding 67 percent backing from those who had cast their votes, Dr Douglas Chalmers, President of the local UCU branch said:

Marking papers

Douglas Chalmers – looking for democracy in the way the university is governed

“I am proud to have been elected by my academic colleagues, on a clear platform of support for the recent Von Prondzynski proposals of reforming HE Governance. I think there is a clear understanding in the sector that the status quo is frankly not working, and indeed the tinkering with the status quo, which is currently being suggested by the chairs of Court does not answer the need for substantial change.
I will be consulting widely within the university community regarding governance at GCU before my first Court meeting, and would encourage any member of academic staff – whether in a trade union or not – to get in touch if they have a point of view they would like to put to me on this.
I think the fact that over two thirds of those voting – in a four person contest – voted for change is heartening – although the turnout of 14 percent shows the mountain that still needs climbed to convince staff that the court structure is a relevant part of governance at GCU. I hope to help do this over my term as governor”.
Said Dr McKerrell “ Ironically, Douglas is now the only member of Court to have been elected in an open and contested ballot. Given that his platform was based on the CUC’s view of the need for change – something, of course, also backed by Davena – this surely gives weight to the democratic mandate for seeking this change. The next three years will be critical to ensure that senior management in Scottish Higher Education are subject to democratic governance. Douglas and Davena will ensure this happens

A small step for court perhaps ….. but GCU needs a giant leap

It’s far too early to tell, but the recent executive briefing by chair of court Tony Brian (see posting below) may be a helpful acknowledgment that things need improved in the governance of the university.   However, it was really too difficult to be certain, given this was a ‘briefing’ with the parameters set in a way that precluded any real debate on what has been clearly incompetent management by our university’s executive over a substantial number of years.
The staff survey clearly shows what the staff think and the unions have made their points on this so  we don’t want to belabour the points again here (though we are intent on achieving their resolution).

In passing however it needs to be noted that the totally disrespectful way it has been treated in The Caledonian magazine would be laughable if it wasn’t so disgraceful.

If court wants to see what is wrong in GCU in microcosm, they should consider the raw results as published, and then look at the spin put on them in this publication.

How to take the issues forward?

Firstly we believe there is a logical inconsistency in arguing (as the chair of court did), that changes need to be evidence based, and then arguing (as the university secretary did)  that the people who could provide exactly the evidence needed – the unions at GCU – are somehow out of the loop of discussions with court. This is complacency at its worst, and threatens to devalue any claim of the court that they are looking at GCU’s serious situation, in a serious manner.
Of course there are many stakeholders in the University… so we say why not speak to them all. Limiting yourself to the assertions of a group who less than one in 5 of our staff trust, is not serious governance and won’t be seen as such by the Scottish community. People including the press, are aware of what has been happening here and the general expectation in the Scottish community that meaningful change needs now to  happen at GCU should not be under estimated.

Some additional issues were raised where further dialogue is also needed. What is the role of staff governors? Do they ‘represent’ or just ‘voice’ views? The staff governors themselves are aware of the contradictions of their positions. This needs looked at.

According to the university secretary, the disappearance of the court minutes from the university web site, seemed ‘inadvertent’ and possibly linked to resourcing. We welcome that and look forward to their re-appearance, plus their availability in formats which are accessible to disabled members of our community.

Finally we were interested to see that there will be ‘external input’ into a review of the effectiveness of court. Whether or not  court will have the courage to publish the outcome of such a review (apparently under discussion), will be emblematic of whether the GCU is moving on from a ‘closed shop’ approach, to that of open governance.

GCU Court talks to (some) GCU staff – a welcome, but very small step

Tony Brian - newly elected chair of GCU Court - first meeting with staff

Some faltering steps which might lead to a more meaningful dialogue between GCU Court and university staff were taken when recently elected Court chair Tony Brian led an ‘Executive Briefing’ on ‘Governance and the role of Court at GCU’.

The organisation of the meeting left something to be desired, with only three working days notice being given to staff and the original time of the meeting clashing with teaching time – something resolved when Court Office were reminded what teaching hours were at the university. The final room chosen turned out to be too small for those present to be seated comfortably in but this did not prevent a first airing of views on some issues.

Disappointingly, the parameters on discussion were narrowly set by Tony to preclude any discussion on ‘revisiting decisions which may or may not have been made by court’ or ‘anticipating decisions that may or may not be made by court’. While quite happy to talk about governance around a decision, he did not think we should be ‘revisiting specific decisions’.

Quoting the Governance review panel definition of Governance as:

‘Effective Stewardship to secure sustainability’; safeguarding the mission and services to the public; the proper use of public and other funds; and ensuring stakeholder participation and accounting for institutional performance’ he suggested:

“Good governance if you break it down to its absolute essence is quite simply decision making and oversight by the right people with the right information at the right time”.

“It has the responsibility of offering constructive but robust challenge to the executive, and guidance, and the whole purpose of that is to hold the executive to account and improve decision making”. “Robust challenge is what makes the difference in decisions making in my view. We must have that for people to reach the right decisions”

Although the Court did not discuss the Governance report till the following week, he reported that the Committee of Scottish Chairs, were against moving to the election of chairs, feeling it could introduce a conflict of interest.

“The chair has the responsibility to act impartially across all of the university and all of the Stakeholders….. Many other people have stakes in the Universities – people funding universities, public or private; local communities, businesses who use our services; public services that use our services, the third sector that use our services”.

He went on to say that he felt any change needed to be evidence based.

In contributions from the floor, it was pointed out that the report recommended an enhanced role for the Trade Unions in university governance, and it was therefore suggested there should be a meeting with representatives of Trade Unions to look at issues of mutual concern.

Tony’s view was that its was too early to say – he hadn’t had a chance to talk to court about this at all and didn’t know what court’s views were on any of these issues, bar the election of the chair, and therefore would have to go through that process.
A direct answer was that he couldn’t comment as he simply didn’t know what courts’ view was. “I couldn’t say yes or no to that at the moment – I would have to see how things evolve.”

Jan Hulme - Staff representatives on court already play a full part.....

He suggested Jan Hulme was the point of contact for all governance issues and if there was a request made it should be made to her.

On this point the university secretary suggested that the issue was really about the mechanisms that were already in place for the unions to engage with the university, which was the JCC… She acknowledged there were discussions and there would be future discussions about how well that operates, and how it can be made to operate better, but at present it was the formal and court approved mechanism for the university to engage with the unions on campus. Anything else would be unusual, atypical and there was not a process for that. So she thought the short answer was that there wasn’t a means for doing that.

She also raised the fact that there were staff representatives on the court, who play a full and active part in the court as well. So to that extent too, the court was informed about staff views, staff perspectives as well. If it was suggested there should be another mechanism then that opened up a whole other discussion and debate that would have to be reviewed. ….  “we might want to pause and reflect before we invented any other piece of machinery.”

A discussion then ensued about the role of staff governors, and what part they played in relaying staff concerns to the court, and whether they represented the people that elected them.

According to the chair of court they gave court their view of staff feelings, views, whatsoever “and we listen to that”.

There were then some points of view given by individual staff members of court including the difficulties they had – being ‘unable to canvass views’ beforehand as court business was confidential, but hoping that they still put over a range of staff views:  “if there’s a decision to be taken on court, I see my role as judging what the academic members of staff would think of that, and then convey it…. It’s not a fully representative role”

One suggestion was that ‘representative’ was perhaps not the correct term, but a better one might be ‘voice’ of staff.

At this point the university secretary argued that responsibility as charity trustees meant that “people have to step back from whatever constituency they feel they know best and who might have elected them and they have to put on the hat of the collective good of the university, weigh things up, on balance and act actually as part of the corporate body.”  To that extent it was not like being a trade union representative who can say straightforwardly ‘this is what my members believe…..’  It was a role that demanded skill and experience, and she believed court were well served.

Brian Pillans: "Staff reps are not accountable to their constituency..."

Brian Pillans, talking for the UCU said the terminology was a problem – ‘staff reps were not accountable to their constituency…..’

Nick McKerral, joint union convener turned to the three pronged structure of governance previously outlined by Tony and suggested there was a clear benchmark of respect for senior staff to be found in the recent staff survey. The Executive had an approval rating of 18% and in some schools it fell to 8% which meant Nick Clegg has a higher rating in Scotland.

Nick McKerrell: "NIck Clegg has a better approval rating in Scotland, than our senior management.."

It was obviously very worrying that such a big prong of university management is held in such scepticism by staff of the university. Turning to the role of court and the fact they had been in discussions with the executive over the decisions that they have made over the last 5 years in the university, NIck asked that given this fact, did the chair of court think court was a successful body just now and that it had done its job well over the last 5 years?

Tony declined to talk about the staff survey as it would be dealt with the following week but suggested Governance had been working well…….. “if you look at the sector as a whole, the HE sector in Scotland is one of the most successful sectors we have…..”

Governance had played a significant role in the successes of the sector. He also stressed that any changes should only be made where there was evidence that they will improve things. “I’m not closed to changes, but they have to be evidence based improvements”. On being pushed on whether he thought governance was working at GCU, he believed “it absolutely was”.

It then being suggested by Brian Pillans that this answer was something that would have been said by the banks 6 or 7 years ago, and perhaps the complacency on the part of the governance of the banks had seen them go where they had, Tony conceded that it didn’t necessarily mean that in the new world what had happened in the past would be adequate. It was one of the things they had to look at – “is governance today sufficient for what we will have tomorrow and the day after tomorrow”. He didn’t want to say that what we had today was perfect, but things needed to be evidence based – ‘there was no point in doing things that will make it worse’.

The question of scrutiny and transparency was raised from the body of the meeting when it was pointed out that the minutes of the court meetings were no longer available to the public – they had been taken off the university website. The question was asked how people were to find out what court was deciding? Court regulations of lodging one copy in the library was totally inadequate – and particularly questionable in terms of disabled access. The question was raised why this decision had been taken.

On this the chair confessed he hadn’t been involved at the time and handed the question to the university secretary who first suggested the decision had predated her, but when it was pointed out this wasn’t correct, suggested that it was possibly inadvertent – a point welcomed in the meeting.

She also suggested that she didn’t think the court web presence was as good as it should be or as informative, or as helpful and that as much as anything it had been a resourcing issue.

She continued to say that it was something that she really thought had to take priority now. Colleagues in the Court office would agree that it was very much a priority – that it was high on the agenda, and very much part of the work plan that they were doing. So she hoped this would address some of the issued that existed.

“The fundamental point as to how court communicates its work is a very fair one, that I think we’d recognise and one we’d very much like to address”.
Tony Brian also agreed it was something that should be looked at.

One of the two last issues raised was on how the University would avoid ‘crony committee-ism with regard to the composition of the court – on this the university secretary welcomed the possibility of having a chat with the member of staff who had made some constructive points in the discussion.

John Biggam - 'We don't seem to see what you are doing...'

Finally UCU membership secretary John Biggam asked what the measure of the court’s effectiveness was, and how it was measured and challenged if the court was found to be ineffective. He asked if there was a role for a staff survey regarding court.

Tony Brian’s view was that judging the court by the standards laid down by the committee of university chairs was the way it ought to be done. On John querying whether they should be judging themselves, Tony replied that they increasingly used external people to come and ‘kick our tyres’ and give that external perspective.

John suggested that the Court’s own procedures made it difficult to judge the effectiveness of court. “We don’t seem to see what you’re doing.  There’s the continuing issue of the difficulty of operating as a staff rep…. but collectively it sounds very discouraging about court – what do you think? … you can’t tell us…….. you might put minutes up….. you don’t know if a survey would be effective….  to the point where, to me it is depressing.”

Tony expressed his disagreement with this, asserting that the effectiveness review would be done with external input to make sure that it was suitably robust….

The meeting finished with a member of staff asking whether this would be published to which Tony Brian answered…. “there are discussions around that kind of thing”.

Independent review calls for shake up of university governance

An independent review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland today called for fundamental change in the way universities are governed.

Amongst its recommendations:

  • Governing bodies need to better show that they observe principles of good governance, regularly reviewing their own performance.
  • Meetings of University Court should normally be held in public.
  • There should be representatives of academic unions and of support staff unions on University Court (in addition to directly elected staff members)
  • At least forty percent of the Court membership should be female, and membership should also reflect principles of equality and diversity more generally.
  • Senior managers other than the Principal should not be Court members, nor attend unless for specific agenda items where their attendance is deemed necessary.
  • Chairs of Court (which should now be an elected post) should work closely with Principals, but be independent of them.
  • University Principals’ performance should be appraised by external governing body members, staff and students. Their method of appointment should be reformed.
  • Remuneration committees should include staff and student members.

The panel looking into change also recommended that the role of trade unions in university governance should be enhanced.

The report (copy here) has already been welcomed by university unions. We expect that it should be welcomed by our University Court in the interest of good governance.

University unions would welcome a real discussion with representatives of the Court on this document as well as on the shocking revelations of the staff survey. This should of course be of a more serious nature than ‘staff listening’ events – which it appears even the Principal’s office is now recognising do not work.

We have also written to Principal Gillies’ representative asking that the Principal attend meetings of the Joint Consultative Committee (as was standard practice with previous Principals). We will report back on her response to your staff representatives.

Scottish Press reports criticism of Senior Management at GCU

A hard hitting article by the Herald’s Education reporter Andrew Denholm has brought the shocking results of the recent GCU staff survey into the public’s gaze.

Stating that “A survey of staff at Glasgow Caledonian University  found just 19% said principal Professor Pamela Gillies and her management ‘lead the university well’ “, Denholm’s report goes on to outline the devastating statistics which have emerged from the management-initiated survey.

Within the article,  Dr Nick McKerral, convener of the university’s combined union committee expresses the point that “although they are obviously committee to their job within the public service of higher education, the figures show that ordinary staff feel ignored by highly paid senior management who have carried through many controversial plans, including attempting to make 95 compulsory redundancies last year”.

Nick is also quoted as saying  “The unions on campus will be requesting a meeting with Court, the governing body of the university, to ask what they plan to do about the failures of GCU management reflected in the survey.”

Denholm goes on to report that “Prof  Gillies who earns £211,000, pointed to many positives within the survey in an e-mail to the staff. She said the survey results show that staff are generally positive about the university, with 92% saying they are interested in the university and it is more than just a job.”

The full report can be found here on the Herald’s website, and on this blog’s Media Coverage page.