Scottish students dismay at new governance code

STUDENT leaders have accused universities of ignoring their views as part of a process to re-shape the way higher education institutions are run.
Robert Gordon University. Picture: TSPLRobert Gordon University. Picture: TSPL
Robert Gordon University. Picture: TSPL

In a joint letter to the convener of the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, the presidents of students’ associations at a number of Scottish universities expressed their dismay at the drafting of a proposed governance code.

Published earlier this month by a steering group led by businessman Lord Smith of Kelvin, the code promised to make governing bodies more accountable and representative.

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But both students and university staff have criticised the document, describing it as a code “written by managers for managers”.

Now the National Union of Students (NUS) and the presidents of 11 student associations have written to SNP MSP Stewart Maxwell, convener of the education committee, calling for the code to be redrafted to reflect that students are “genuine and meaningful partners in university governance”.

The new code was first proposed in a review of university governance carried out by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University, on behalf of the Scottish Government last year. As a result, the body representing the chairs of university courts established the steering group, which also includes former Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini.

Carla Fyfe, president of Glasgow Caledonian University’s students’ association, said: “We are calling on the committee to look closely at whether these proposals, which were written by the very same chairs who will be governed by them, will result in any meaningful improvements in the involvement of students and their representatives in university governance.

“Student representatives in Scotland have long recognised the need to ensure transparency and accountability in university decision-making. The recommendations within the Von Prondzynski report would have seen students and students’ associations made more meaningful partners at all levels of university governance.

“Instead, the chairs have largely ignored the report’s recommendations and, through what proved ultimately to be a tokenistic consultation exercise, failed to listen to the views of students.”

She added: “We call on the committee to question whether the process of self-regulation has resulted in any meaningful difference to the current system.

“The university chairs’ proposals lack both the transparency and collaborative vision of the Von Prondzynski report. We hope the MSPs who sit on the Education and Culture Committee will ensure that this vision is ultimately realised.”

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The draft report recommends that staff and student input be taken into account during the appointment of a university’s principal.

It also proposes the introduction of new requirements which will secure the involvement of staff and students in the appraisal of the principal.

But the NUS said students had been “let down” by the proposed code, which had obscured most of Von Prondzynski’s recommendations in a “sea of ambiguity”.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “Students’ associations are rightly upset to see good proposals for more transparent and representative university governance reduced to tokenistic promises of consultation.

“The chairs paid only lip service to student representation in their code, which given the strong proposals in the Von Prondzynski Report on how to improve university governance, is simply unacceptable.”