Universities Scotland has provided a briefing to MSPs ahead of the Stage 1 debate on the Scottish Government’s Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill on Thursday, 14 January.
The briefing asks for MSPs’ support at Stage 1 on four areas relating to the Bill:
- To acknowledge the existing strengths in Scotland’s system of higher education governance. These strengths have been commented on positively by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and the Education Committee. Scottish HE has a long history of having staff and students at the heart of its mechanisms of governance. Staff and students are full members of universities’ governing body – the Court – at every institution. 94% of institutions have two or more staff members. 72% have two or more student members of Court.
- To ensure that the Government answers the Education Committee’s set of 17 questions for clarity and further evidence in full. Following the Scottish Government’s response to the Education Committee’s stage one report we still believe a number of issues remain unclear or un-evidenced. We have listed these, as we see them, below. It is vital this is forthcoming so that MSPs can perform their important role of informed scrutiny.
- The complete removal of sections 8 and 13 of the Bill which would give the Scottish Government the power to modify important parts of HE governance by regulation. We remain concerned that these sections increase the risk of ONS reclassification. The Government’s response to the stage one report gives the strongest indication yet that it is ‘minded’ to remove these sections. This constructive move would be welcome. Their removal would not compromise the Bill’s policy objectives.
- To ensure that any change to the role of Chair will actually improve good governance. The Government’s response to the stage one report outlines a two-stage process for the Chair’s selection including a selection process, followed by an election. Previously, section one of the Bill was left unspecified. We remain concerned that this approach has the potential to actually undermine the very objectives of accountability and diversity in governance that the Bill looks to advance. We recognise that stakeholders are divided on this issue (as does the Government) and so we ask you to consider this proposal in light of four questions as set out on page 9.