Tag Archives: Governance

UCU supports more academic freedom in universities

Staff and students cast their vote for democracy

Staff and students cast their vote for democracy

“Expanding academic freedom in universities is is something that everyone connected to education in Scotland should be in support of” said Douglas Chalmers, local president of UCU at Glasgow Caledonian, following the branch’s submission to the current government consultation on higher education governance. The submission can be downloaded here.

“The experience of the recent referendum makes it even more obvious that the ability of academics to speak out freely cannot be taken for granted, or left to voluntary codes – so we would expect all universities to support this expansion, or explain why they fail to do so.”

“Our submission also calls for the direct election of chairs of Court by students and staff, and for the investigation of the possibility and practicalities of additional elections within universities of senior management from positions of Head of Departments and above.

“We have also repeated our view that there need to be specified places for students and staff on governing bodies and agree with the proposal that there should be positions for nominated representatives of trades unions. Given that trade unions are recognised as the representatives of staff in universities, we do not see the need for additional non-union ‘staff’ members on the governing body.

“We would also be in favour of a majority of Senate members being elected and that efforts should be made to make the Senate more representative of diversity amongst staff. We are in favour of moving towards 50:50 gender balance on the Senate”.

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.

Education Minister wants our views on running GCU

Angela Constance Cabinet Secretary for Education

Angela Constance Cabinet Secretary for Education

Angela Constance, the Cabinet Secretary for Education in the Scottish Government is interested in your views on how GCU, and other universities are governed.

All university campus unions are in favour of democratising higher education governance and will be making sure their members’ voices are heard in this debate.

We want open elections for chairs of governing bodies, transparency over principals’ pay, a new agreed definition of academic freedom and for governing bodies to be more representative.

In an article in the Herald on 15th January, Mary Senior, UCU Scotland’s official referred to the consultation and forthcoming bill as: ‘a once in a generation opportunity to sort out transparency in Scotland’s universities’

On Monday 26th between 12 and 2pm, the UCU@GCU will be holding a stall in the Hamish Wood foyer allowing staff and students to sign postcards to support change in this sector.

If you are a UCU member there is also a downloadable A3 Poster  and A5 Postcard you can use to express your support for the campaign.

Meanwhile the UCU have launched a petition asking their members to record their support for change. You can sign it here.

UCU has also uploaded all the necessary information to contribute individually to the consultation here.

Don’t miss this chance – please make sure your voice is heard.

As well as individual union activity, the GCU Combined Union Committee will be considering a joint submission to both our own Court (before it puts in the university’s ‘corporate’ view), and to the Scottish government. If you have any points on this, please contact either your individual union or Nick McKerral, chair of the CUC.

 

 

 

 

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

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

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.”