St Andrews urges graduates to oppose SNP plans

St ANDREWS University is urging thousands of its graduates to lobby Holyrood in opposition to SNP plans which it is feared will hand ministers greater control over the way the institution is run.

Andrew Melville Hall, St Andrews University, whose academics are at the centre of the new row. Picture: Contributed

St Andrews is Scotland’s oldest university and its alumni include former First Minister Alex Salmond and Prince William.

But bosses are fearful that proposals in the Higher Education governance Bill at Holyrood will allow ministers to “exercise greater control” over higher institutions.

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In a letter to more than 40,000 general council members, Graham Wynd, convenor of its business committee, warns the legislation will enforce “greater consistency” among universities and reduce their ability to adopt individual strategies.

He adds: “I am taking the unusual step of appealing to you, members of General Council – as many of you as possible - to write to the Scottish Parliament to express your concerns about the Bill. This approach is in line with the wishes of General Council in June; it is also welcomed by the University Court.”

The changes includes plans to open up governing chairs at institutions to wider elections. There are fears the changes could make the posts more political and stop high-calibre candidates from coming forward.

It has already met with widespread opposition among universities.

Mr Wynd’s letter adds: “It will burden universities and the public purse with extra regulation and bureaucracy that will stifle enterprise and jeopardise the positive contribution that universities, such as St Andrews, make to the economy.

“In the opinion of many, the case has not been made, and the legislation is not only harmful; it is superfluous.”

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.

Bodies like the University and Colleges Union have called for improvements in the way that institutions are governed. The Government says more transparent governance will help universities “develop and adapt” to future challenges.

But Tory young people spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “What the public cannot understand is why the Scottish Government continue to be hell-bent on meddling in university governance where no problem exists rather than focusing on all the other major issues in education which they are failing on including falling rates of literacy and numeracy, a widening attainment gap between rich and poor, cuts to teacher number and 140,000 fewer college places.”