Universities Scotland: ‘Trade unions on university boards is undemocratic’


Trade union hits back at university principals, saying their claims are “nonsense”

UNIVERSITIES Scotland has told a government consultation into higher education that allowing trade union representatives onto university boards would “diminish the democratic basis of higher education governance”.

The Herald reported that Universities Scotland, the representative of university principals, believes that the move, proposed in the Scottish Government’s Higher Education Bill, would result in “a conflict between their corporate responsibility as members of the governing body and their representative responsibility to act in accordance with a trade union mandate”.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the Universities and Colleges Union, hit back, stating that: “Universities rightly recognise trade unions to negotiate on behalf of all staff in the workplace, so it seems odd that university principals think trade unions are incapable of enhancing good governance in their institutions.

“The suggestion that having a trade union representative on a governing body is undemocratic is nonsense, particularly when coming from principals who seem to get inflation-busting pay hikes each year.

“Surely robust governance and effective scrutiny of the decisions made by well-paid principals and senior managers would benefit from having trade union participation.”

The principal of Robert Gordon University, Professor Ferdinand Von Prondzynski, led a review into higher education governance three years ago. The review called for wide-ranging changes, with boards 40 per cent female, elected chairs of the board, staff and students on the board, and a democratic control over the appointment, salary and appraisal of the university principal.

Universities Scotland have also opposed the position of elected chair in their consultation submission to the Higher Education Bill.

Universities have been widely criticised for making cuts with little consultation with staff, and with run-away salaries for principals continuing to rise well above inflation during the recession.

Gordon Maloney, National Union of Students President, said: “A previous review argued for strong staff representation on governing bodies and excluding trade unions would seriously limit these proposals.

“Universities in Scotland have failed for hundreds of years to appoint anything resembling a representative group of people to their decision-making bodies and it would be naive in the extreme to the think that they’re suddenly going to change.”

The submission of the Common Weal think-tank and campaign group to the Higher Education Bill consultation called for more democracy on university boards and stated that “there is almost no mechanism for any democratic scrutiny internally (by the staff and students of a university) or externally (by government) of the strategy and purpose of the university”.

Picture Courtesy of Glasgow University