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Scotland: First tuition reform, now governance

Following on the heels of important changes related to tuition fees in 2011 (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, September and November 2011), the Scottish government is now turning its attention to governance issues in the country’s higher education system. On 16 January 2012, an expert panel convened in June 2011 released its findings and recommendations with regard to a full set of issues related to the central question of how “at a time of important national change and renewal”, Scottish higher education institutions can be governed as effectively as possible and with the “widest consent and support” of participants and stakeholders.

The report focuses on six key areas, namely: the role and structure of higher education governance; the appointment and remuneration of principals; the role, composition and appointment of governing bodies and academic boards; the role of stakeholders; and “other issues”, such as “whistleblowing”, bureaurcratisation concerns and the lack of a strong base of research or evidence on higher education in Scotland. From a consideration of these broad issues, 17 specific recommendations were generated. These are too numerous to list fully here, but the general thrust is on increasing transparency, accountability, collaboration and adherence to democratic principles.

More specifically, the report calls for a new statute of the Scottish Parliament to set out the key principles of governance, management and to serve as the legal basis for the continued establishment of all recognised higher education institutions in the country. The panel also suggests a limitation on the use of the term ‘university’, which it feels should only be applied to “independent public bodies accredited in Scotland under legislation for these purposes”. Another recommendation is the establishment “in an appropriate academic setting” of a Scottish Centre for Higher Education Research to mitigate the significant gaps in the evidence base about the sector. Controversy has followed several of the other recommendations relating to such issues as the election of the chairs of governing bodies and a minimum of at least 40% female representation on such bodies, “over a specified transition period”.  

This work will now reportedly serve as a guide for the Scottish government to consider next steps in university governance reform.

Government of Scotland