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UCU Scotland condemns Taskforce report

24 June 2008

The Scottish Government's Higher Education Taskforce is in danger of consigning years of collaborative working on how to enhance the reputation and proven record of the country's universities to oblivion, UCU Scotland has warned. And removing the current funding levers that place a range of obligations on principals will have serious consequences warns UCU Scotland.

Responding to the publication today (Tuesday) of the Taskforce's interim report, UCU Scotland President, Terry Brotherstone, said:

'The government, despite Fiona Hyslop's personal assurances that the views of staff and students were vital to policy-making, seems to have embarked on a course that excludes the real representatives of the sector and could well produce a report that reduces our concerns for academic freedom, cultural democracy and collegiality to merely decorative phrases.

'However, we welcome the interim report's statement that this is the beginning of a process that will now involve wider consultation, and Fiona Hyslop's commitment, on our suggestion, to a stakeholder conference in August. But if a final report is to follow shortly after that, the timescale is far too short for the Scottish people to have confidence that it will set the universities on a more democratic, more educationally led and less narrowly business-oriented approach.'

'Relationships between government and universities are one of the most delicate mechanisms in any civilised democracy. Instead of consulting widely and thinking deeply the Scottish Government seems more concerned to make a power-sharing deal by which university principals and governing bodies are charged with delivering its goals and left to deal with staff like corporation boards and bosses.

'Despite all the evidence that funding levers are required to oblige Principals to look after their estate and staff or implement policies of social inclusion, these measures are being dumped in a return to the failed unrestricted funding regime of the past. We can now look forward to more crumbling buildings and lack of investment in staff.'

The Higher Education Taskforce set up to consider the future of higher education consisted of Ministers, civil servants, Principals and a token member of the Scottish Funding Council. The bulk of the higher education sector, the staff and students, were not represented.

The report states that:

'Regulation by the Scottish Funding Council will be significantly relaxed and a new 'lighter touch' approach adopted to managing the relationship with institutions, in consultation with the universities through a new Tripartite Advisory Group.'

And

'There will be fewer restrictions on universities on how money in the GFU can be spent within universities. Institutions will have greater flexibility than at present to allocate and, significantly, move funding within their universities to meet priorities.'

Hence Principals will sit directly with Government and a weakened funding council to make policy and funding decisions for the whole sector. Previously the government has made strategic decisions and used the SFC to implement them in consultation with the whole sector. This has included policy that has been unpopular with Principals but welcomed by the staff and students but under the proposals Principals will be able to veto such policy at the outset.

Last updated: 14 December 2015

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