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by Tom Freeman
17 June 2015
University chairs warn of ‘conflicts’ in new governance bill

University chairs warn of ‘conflicts’ in new governance bill

Plans to put trade unions on the governing bodies of universities could weaken the “lines of accountability” in higher education institutions, university chairs have warned.

In a response to the Scottish Government’s higher education governance bill, which was published this morning, representative body Universities Scotland said extending membership of governing bodies to “interest groups” could weaken decision-making.

Potential conflicts would occur “if these members serve simply as representatives of an interest group rather than bearing responsibility for the good governance of the institution,” it said.


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It also says the proposals on appointment of chairs mean Scottish Government ministers could interfere with the process in future.

Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of the University of Dundee said existing systems, implemented after the 2013 new Scottish Code of Good HE Governance, were “effective, inclusive and accountable” and had been supported by staff and students.

Amendments to the new bill will be needed, he said, “to avoid the risk that lines of accountability are weakened or the objectivity of governors is compromised”.

“Ultimately every member of the governing body needs to take responsibility for decisions that promote the institution’s success. It’s also why you need an effective Chair with the full confidence of the governing body.   

“Universities don’t want to see these lines of accountability and objectivity weakened and want to work with Parliament and Government to ensure this,” he said.

University and College Union Scotland Official Mary Senior said the new bill was “a major step forward”, after years of campaigning.

“UCU members want universities that are more democratic, representative, and transparent, and we’ll be working to ensure that the chairs of university governing bodies are elected by the people with the biggest interest in the success of our universities – the staff and students who learn, teach and carry out research there,” she said.

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