Responding to the publication of the review into university governance earlier today (Wednesday 1 February), Professor Seamus McDaid, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:
“We welcome the affirmation this report gives to the importance of university autonomy. It is reassuring that all members of the review panel attach as much significance to the continuation of autonomous universities in Scotland as principals.
“We continue to be committed to a model of university governance that is robust, accountable, inclusive and transparent. We also believe in a strong role for students, staff and other stakeholders in the running of our universities. 
“We have been open to this review from the outset because we believe our governance arrangements should be subject to the same continuous improvement that we strive for in our teaching and research. However, it is important to remember our starting point; Scotland’s universities are a high-performing sector, with high levels of student satisfaction and better research performance than can be found in most other countries. This success is, in large part, a product of current governance arrangements.”
In responding constructively to the call for evidence, Universities Scotland’s submission made fifteen recommendations as to how university governance could be further strengthened, many of which looked to embed examples of good practice across the whole sector. A number of these recommendations appear in the report. Commenting on this, Professor McDaid said:
“We’re pleased to see some of our own suggestions reflected in the report including the development of a Scottish code of governance which can embed existing best practice across the sector. We also welcome the recommendation that all university court members should be fully supported in their role and that the availability of training be formalised.”
Other recommendations in the report are more complex and come with significant practical or legal implications for both universities and Government. In making his statement to Parliament, Mr Russell was clear that he would continue to consult with universities. This approach was welcomed by Professor McDaid:
“With over 40 separate recommendations in the report, some of them very complex, it’s important that universities now have the chance to consider them properly and to discuss the principles and practicalities in more detail with Government, with their courts and with staff, students and other stakeholders.
“Mr Russell has given a personal commitment to consider all proposals in consultation with the sector and we look forward to further conversations with him.”
A number of more radical and far-reaching recommendations in the report have not been subject to prior exploration or consultation beyond members of the review panel. These include the possible election of Chairs of governing bodies and the proposal to remunerate Chairs.
Addressing these specific proposals, Professor McDaid said:
“The Review itself recognises that a lot of the issues raised could not be addressed fully in the time available. A number of recommendations, including the election of Chairs and composition of governing bodies raise significant challenges and are only partially-developed. We feel today’s report should mark a starting point for more detailed discussion rather than be viewed as an off-the-shelf prescription for change.
“The Panel itself was unable to reach a unanimous view on a number of these recommendations as Mr Simpson, an experienced university Chair, makes clear in his dissenting opinion. We believe Mr Simpson sets out a number of important arguments which should receive serious consideration in order to ensure that we find a way forward which genuinely strengthens responsible and autonomous governance and sustains universities’ contribution to Scotland’s success.”
Reflecting on review’s recommendations and the challenging role of twenty-first century university governance, Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, Vice Convener of Universities Scotland, said:
“The role of a university has certainly evolved. The common good has always been at the core of our purpose and our system of governance must protect that. But governance also means the responsibility to meet a growing number of challenges and expectations from Government, including tough targets on efficiency and income generation. Both roles are equally important but they can sometimes be difficult to reconcile; this is the challenge for our evolving model of governance. As some of the report’s recommendations are developed in more detail, the real test will be to ensure that universities remain effective on both counts.”
The review into university governance was announced by Mr Russell in June 2011. Professor von Prondzynski, Principal at Robert Gordon University, led a five-person review panel which also comprised Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, Iain McWhirter, the-then Rector of the University of Edinburgh, Terry Brotherstone of the University and College Union Scotland who was nominated by Scotland’s Trade Union Congress and Alan Simpson, Chair at the University of Stirling and Chair of the Scottish Chairs.
- Elected and/or appointed staff and students make up around 30 per cent of the membership of university governing bodies in Scotland. This figure is based on an analysis of the governing bodies of 14 universities and three small, specialist institutes in Scotland at the time of our submission to the review of governance. UHI was excluded from the analysis because of its unique partnership model as was SAC because of its corporate board structure.
- The review into university governance can be found on the Scottish Government’s website here.
- The letter of dissenting opinion from Mr Simpson, Chair of Scottish Chairs, is also published by the Scottish Government, alongside the report and can be found here.