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University of Edinburgh urges opposition to Governance Bill

ByTom Wrench

Oct 1, 2015

The University of Edinburgh is urging alumni to lobby against a new Bill introduced by the Scottish Government.

As reported in The Student last week, the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill has been condemned by universities across Scotland for its potentially “damaging” consequences.

The Convenor of the Business Committee of the University of Edinburgh’s General Council, Professor Charles Swainson, and the Secretary of the General Council, Dr Michael Mitchell, are now calling upon the university’s alumni to write to their MSP, or directly to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, in attempt to have the Bill scrapped.

If the Bill is passed by the Scottish Parliament, Scotland’s four ancient universities, the Universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, will lose the right to elect a rector to chair their governing courts alongside a vice-convenor appointed by the universities. Currently, each university has its own unique governance structure and process for electing a rector.

In place of the current arrangements, the Scottish Government seeks to impose a single structure for all of the universities, which would include the election of a single chair of the university courts, the highest governing body of the four ancient Scottish universities.

Universities Scotland, which represents almost every Scottish university, has warned that the Bill could also revoke the charitable status of these institutions, meaning that they would lose out on millions of pounds of funding.

Concerns were refuted by the Scottish education secretary, Angela Constance, earlier this year. She stated that the governance of universities must always be, “evolving, modern, transparent and inclusive”.

She also argued that: “In return for substantial investment, the Scottish Government wants to help ensure all parts of the university community have their voices heard in a more consistent way.”

Speaking to The Student, Professor Charlie Jeffrey, Senior Vice Principal of the University of Edinburgh, explained why the university felt it had to take action against the Bill. He said: “I don’t think that there has been a real articulation as to what the Bill is designed to address. The Scottish Government is rightly proud that at least four Scottish universities are in the world’s top two hundred. Therefore, are Scottish universities really being governed badly?

“There are a range of universities in Scotland of all different sizes. It seems odd, therefore, for the Scottish Government to want to structure each institution in exactly the same way.

“The unusual amount of detail within the Bill also potentially provides aleeway for secondary legislation based on the structure of the university courts to be introduced, and leaves universities open to change by future Scottish governments.

“In view of this, the Business Committee of the General Council [the University of Edinburgh’s network of alumni and academic staff] has taken the unusual decision to ask alumni to express their opposition to the Bill. This reflects the deep concerns about the Bill felt across the whole University.”

Image: Alan Ford

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