SNP’s university reform plans a “source of shame”

Academics say the SNP's proposal 'seriously threatens' university autonomy. Picture: Jane Barlow
Academics say the SNP's proposal 'seriously threatens' university autonomy. Picture: Jane Barlow
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A LEADING scientist has described plans to reform the governance of universities as a “source of shame” which is already damaging Scotland’s international standing.

Professor Jim Naismith, a Fellow of the Royal Society and director of the Biomedical Research Complex at the University of St Andrews, said the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill before the Scottish Parliament “seriously threatens” university autonomy.

The legislation is aimed at creating greater transparency 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 ensure staff, students and trade unions are all represented on university governing bodies.

But there have been concerns about the impact of the changes on universities’ autonomy, and the consequences of increased ministerial powers.

Prof Naismith made his remarks during an address to hundreds of newly graduated St Andrews students in the town’s Younger Hall.

He said: “That this is happening in the birthplace of the Enlightenment, home to several of the world’s best universities, and in a country famed for commitment to education is, to me, a Scot, a source of shame.”

Education Secretary Angela Constance has pledged to consider changes to the bill.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said yesterday: “We have no intention of introducing ministerial control over universities and we will continue to listen to all interested parties and consider all constructive suggestions.”