EIS Submission to the review of higher education governance - Sept 2011

The EIS applauds the formation of the Review into Governance in Scottish Higher Education and urges the Government to act on the increasing concerns arising from the current university governance system. The EIS is therefore pleased to be responding to the Scottish Government’s Review into Governance in Higher Education.

The EIS is the largest education union in Scotland with over sixty thousand members; including six thousand members in Further Education Colleges and fifteen hundred members as academics and academic related staff within Higher Education Institutions within Scotland.

Higher Education members of the EIS form a Self-Governing Association called the ‘Educational Institute of Scotland University Lecturers’ Association’ which has its own Executive to deal with HE matters including HE policy for Institute.

The EIS is therefore unique amongst trade unions in having HE policy matters determined solely in Scotland.

Higher Education has been devolved to Scotland for some time, and funded through the Scottish Parliament. However, the recent Browne Review and the decision to expand and increase tuition fees in England have accelerated the development of a separate Scottish HE system.

Scotland has a long and proud Higher Education tradition and history, with some of the oldest Universities in the English Speaking world. Today, despite a population of 5 million, Scotland has 5 Universities in the World top 200. This is an impressive achievement and yet many feel that the governance systems that exist within Scottish HEIs do not work as well as they should.

David Kirp1 has concluded that "embedded in the very idea of the university... are values that the market does not honour: the belief in a community of scholars and not a confederacy of self-seekers; in the idea of openness and not ownership; in the professor as a pursuer of truth and not an entrepreneur; in the student as an acolyte whose preferences are to be formed, not a consumer whose preferences are to be satisfied."

The EIS believes that the purpose and role of the HE Sector needs to be considered together with governance. This ‘Review into HE Governance’ is an important opportunity to identify and amend the current HE Governance system in Scotland, so that it continues to nurture some of the best Universities in the world to best serve Scotland.

While we welcome the positive aspects of entrepreneurial application that has always existed in the Scottish University sector, which consistently punches above its weight amongst global academia, the EIS does have concerns that current governance systems seem to offer HEI autonomy without democratic accountability, and that many University Courts of Governors (i.e. the governing body) have become emasculated by powerful University Executives.

Scotland is not the only country to look at Governance in Higher Education, particularly with regard to accountability and governance effectiveness. The recent Review of Governance in Higher Education2 in Wales proposes a stronger governmental structure for direct intervention within the Welsh HE sector.

The EIS has always acted for the "promotion of sound learning” and it believes that the governance in Scottish HEIs needs to be improved to provide more effective governance and to enable democratic scrutiny. The EIS does believe in HEI retaining the autonomy to govern and manage themselves, but that they should do within a coherent national strategy passed by parliament with a clear line of accountability to the Scottish Government/Parliament which is the primary funder of their work.

The 2011 EIS-ULA Annual Conference called on the Scottish Government to carry out a review into current HE governance arrangements, and the EIS is pleased that the Government has launched this review and it welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Scottish Government’s HE Review.

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