MSPs Urged To Support University Shake Up

14 January 2016, 09:42 | Updated: 14 January 2016, 09:44

Students are calling on MSPs to back in principle a controversial shake-up of how Scotland's universities operate.

The National Union of Students hailed the reforms outlined in the Higher Education Government (Scotland) Bill as a chance to "finally shake up the status quo'' in the sector.

The legislation, which has been put forward by the Scottish Government, is aimed at creating greater transparency and openness in higher education governance.

It includes a requirement for university chairs to be appointed in line with an agreed, consistent process, with ministers planning on using this to introduce elections for these positions.

The Bill, if passed, would also make sure staff, students and trade unions are all represented on university governing bodies and would strengthen the current definition of academic freedom.

Concerns have been raised about the impact of the changes on university autonomy and the consequences of increased ministerial powers.

Holyrood is to debate the general principles of the changes on Thursday afternoon.

Emily Beever, NUS Scotland women's officer, said: "Students have been campaigning for years to ensure our universities are governed in a progressive and principled way, and this Bill provides a big opportunity to take that campaign one step further.

"The Bill has rightly been welcomed by staff and student unions as a way to ensure greater accountability, transparency and democracy, and finally shake up the status quo.''

She added: "Scottish universities aren't big businesses, serving shareholders and being run from behind closed doors, they're publicly-funded charities who should be serving the best interests of their staff and students.

"That's why we support moves to reverse the trend we've seen of an increasingly managerial and top-down style of governance, and start putting more of a say back in the hands of staff and students.

"If we truly want to see our institutions run in the best interest of staff and students, it's fundamental that we ensure they have a voice and a say at every level of decision-making.

"We would urge all MSPs to support the general principles of the Bill and the proposed changes should be recognised as a positive step towards increased transparency and accountability, and a stronger voice for staff and students.''

Members of Holyrood's Education Committee have already examined the legislation and have called on the Scottish Government to publish its "full analysis'' on its potential impact on universities' charity status.

Universities Scotland says the Higher Education Bill increases the risk of reclassification of universities by the Office for National Statistics, putting their charitable status in doubt and potentially damaging philanthropic and entrepreneurial income streams.

Education Secretary Angela Constance has said while she is confident the legislation complies with ONS guidelines, removal or amendment of the relevant sections is under ''active consideration''.