Edinburgh University urges fight against ‘autonomy’ Bill

Edinburgh University have turned to old graduates to help their cause. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Edinburgh University have turned to old graduates to help their cause. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Edinburgh University is urging thousands of its graduates to lobby Holyrood in opposition to controversial plans which it is feared will hand ministers “wide powers” over its governance.

The institution’s general council has written to alumni setting out concerns over the proposals in the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill which it claims will “damage the autonomy” of universities.

This reaction is not in the least bit surprising

Elizabeth Smith

It follows a similar recent move by St Andrews and has prompted fresh opposition calls for the Bill to be scrapped.

The proposals have proved controversial with Universities Scotland warning that it could see institutions stripped of their charitable status and lose out on millions of pounds in funding.

The latest move by Edinburgh calls on alumni to write to their MSP, or if they live outside Scotland, write directly to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

It has been sent by Professor Charles Swainson, convenor of the business committee of the General Council and Dr Michael Mitchell, secretary of the General Council.

“We realise that these are unusual requests but we strongly believe that this is a misguided way to achieve positive developments in governance,” the letter states.

It warns that the proposals will “damage the autonomy” of universities and the legal responsibilities of board members as charity trustees, as well as being “counter intuitive with the “good principles of governance.”

It adds: “The imposition of a single ‘one size fits all’ model of governance in such a variety of institutions across Scotland imposes unnecessary and probably harmful uniformity. Hundreds of University of Edinburgh Professors will be stripped of their existing rights to take part in Senate.”

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said: “This reaction is not in the least bit surprising. The more people appreciate the consequences of this deeply damaging bill the greater the anger amongst students and staff.

“The evidence presented to last week’s Finance Committee at Holyrood by representatives of principals, chairs and Universities Scotland was unequivocal in its condemnation of the likely effect on university finances - something which clearly impacts on educational experiences and on investment for the future.

“This is a bad bill and it should be scrapped.”

The concerns have previously been dismissed by education secretary Angela Constance who has said that ministers want to work with universities to ensure their governance arrangements are always “evolving, modern transparent and inclusive.”

“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,” Ms Constance told Parliament earlier this year.