Scottish Universities Challenged

Improving governance or constraining autonomy?

An earlier post covered the outcomes of a review of governance in Scottish universities and reported a number of concerns about what looked like far-reaching and extremely interventionist proposals.

Following this review the Scottish government has now indicated its response and, according to the Scotsman, it looks set to adopt many of the recommendations:

THE Scottish Government has unveiled a radical shake-up of the country’s universities and colleges.

• Education secretary Mike Russell unveils plans for a shakeup of pay and quotas

• Labour’s education spokesman Hugh Henry likened the plans to a ‘power grab’

• Scotland’s colleges currently undergoing mergers following earlier plans to save money and prevent duplication of courses

Education secretary Mike Russell said he had accepted “virtually all” the recommendations of a review of university governance, which called for elected chairs, quotas for female board members and curbs on the pay of high-earning principals.


Universities Scotland has sought to respond in a measured fashion to this development. The Scotsman carries the piece by Alastair Sim:

The von Prondynski review set out a range of affirmations and challenges for the sector. Some of these are matters of public policy or of legislation, and it’s important that universities and government keep talking to find ways forward which will genuinely improve the effective and responsive governance of Scottish universities. We welcome the recognition in the minister’s statement that this will be an evolutionary process which may include adaptation of the original proposals. Let’s use the time between now and proposed legislation to make sure we are getting things right.

Let’s hope they do keep talking. The review recommendations do, on the face of it, seem to represent significant challenges to institutional autonomy in Scotland and offer not insubstantial increases in the bureaucratic burden on universities. Serious consideration needs to be given to whether these proposals will really improve governance and institutional success or, as many fear, will in fact limit the ability of Scottish universities to deliver their missions.

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HE in Ireland: “Axe hangs over 750 posts”

Whilst UK institutions are facing significant financial challenges, the situation in Ireland seems distinctly difficult according to the Irish Independent.

The paper states that up to 750 jobs are to be cut by December and that academics, research staff and administrative, technical and other support posts will be equally affected by the instructions to reduce numbers by 3% by December:

There will be no compulsory redundancies and the cuts will be achieved through non-filling of posts and the non-renewal of fixed-term contracts. The move is part of the Government’s effort to slash the size and cost of the public sector. The cutbacks mean that colleges also have to get special approval to fill certain jobs. Where a college seeks an exemption to fill a vacancy, it must get permission from the Higher Education Authority (HEA), the Department of Education and the Department of Finance.

It must complete a form explaining the basis for filling the post and, in the case of lecturers, confirm all existing lecturing capacity is being used. In the case of lecturers, colleges have been advised that they won’t get approval in the absence of confirmation that all available lecturing capacity is already being used. The HEA has put in place an Employment Control Framework setting out how the colleges are to achieve the cuts.

In the case of academics, the HEA has notified each individual college of the actual number of academic/teaching posts that must go. Colleges have some discretion about what academic posts should be suppressed, but must deliver on the December 2009 bottom line figure dictated by the HEA. In the case of administrative, technical and other support jobs, vacancies may not be filled, contracts may not be renewed and no new posts may be created.

This really is pretty dramatic stuff. Whilst we might think things are pretty bad in the UK, we are a long way from this kind of intervention.