Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill - Call for Evidence

What the Bill seeks to do

What the Committee would like your views on

The Committee’s questions

Specific proposals

Academic freedom

How to submit your views

What happens next?

Any questions?

The Education and Culture Committee invites your views on the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill, which was introduced in the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Government on 16 June 2015.

The Bill and its accompanying documents are available on the Parliament’s website at: http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/90125.aspx  

What the Bill seeks to do

According to the Policy Memorandum, the principal objective of the Bill “is to enable a framework of higher education governance that is more modern, inclusive and accountable. It will strengthen existing governance in the higher education sector in Scotland, ensuring it remains fit for purpose”.

Specifically, the Bill—

 

  • Requires HEIs [higher education institutions] to appoint the chair of their governing body in accordance with a process set out in regulations made by the Scottish Ministers. Regulations may include provision for periods of appointment and means of selection for appointment (for example through public advertisement of the position, selection criteria, interview of candidates, short listing of candidates and holding an election from among candidates shortlisted as suitable for appointment). The regulations may also require HEIs to make available to candidates reimbursement of reasonable expenses incurred as a result of attending an interview, should a pre-selection process operate, and to make available to chairs remuneration commensurate with the responsibilities  of carrying out the functions of office. The Bill also requires the Scottish Ministers, before making regulations, to consult with HEIs to which the regulations relate and other such persons that the Ministers consider appropriate.
  • Requires HEIs to include within the membership of their governing bodies: the person appointed as chairing member, two directly elected staff members, one member nominated by academic and related unions, one member nominated by administrative, technical or support staff unions, two students nominated by the students association, and two graduates of the HEI nominated by the graduates‘ association.
  • Requires HEIs to ensure that their academic boards are comprised of no more than 120 people and include Principals and Heads of Schools attending ex officio; a majority of elected members representing staff and students; and a minimum of 10% student representation. The Bill also ensures that all board members appointed under the Bill‘s election process for staff and students are elected by the constituency that they represent.
  • Replaces the current definition of academic freedom in section 26 of the 2005 Act, with a view to strengthening it and making explicit the freedom to develop and advance new ideas and innovative proposals.

The Committee’s role at Stage 1 of the parliamentary process is to report to the Parliament on the general principles of the Bill – that is, on its overall purpose.

The Committee invites you to answer some or all of the questions/issues below to help it in scrutinising the Bill and in reporting to the Parliament.  If possible, please provide specific and practical examples in your response. There is no obligation to answer all of the questions. 

The Committee’s questions

1.  What do you consider to be the existing problems (if any) with higher education governance, particularly around modernity, inclusion and accountability?

2. The extent to which the Bill

(a) will improve higher education governance, particularly in the areas above

(b) may alter the higher education sector’s current level of autonomy 

(c) may affect lines of accountability between the Scottish Government, relevant public bodies and the higher education sector

The Bill is part of a wider package of recent reforms to higher education governance, including the development of a Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance.

3. Has the correct balance been struck between legislative and non-legislative measures? Are any further measures needed?

Specific proposals 

The Bill proposes a number of specific changes to higher education governance:

 

  • To require higher education institutions to appoint the chair of their governing body in accordance with a process set out in regulations made by the Scottish Ministers
  • To require HEIs to include various persons within the membership of their governing bodies
  • To require HEIs to ensure that their academic boards are comprised of no more than 120 people, and include various persons 

 

4. Please provide your views on the merit of each of these proposals. 

Academic freedom

The Bill will also replace the current legal definition of academic freedom “with a view to strengthening it and making explicit the freedom to develop and advance new ideas and innovative proposals”.

While the other provisions in the Bill only focus on higher education institutions, this provision will apply to publicly-funded colleges and all higher education institutions (collectively known as post-16 education bodies). Post-16 education bodies are to uphold the academic freedom (within the law) of all relevant persons i.e. those engaged in teaching, the provision of learning or research. 

Please provide your views on the following—

5. The likely practical effect of these provisions, for example, whether there are any areas of teaching, learning or research that will be particularly enhanced.

The Bill states that academic freedom is to be exercised “within the law”. 

6. Are there are likely to be any significant constraints – other than legal constraints – on academic freedom? For example, the particular ethos within an institution; funding pressures; institutions’ policies on equality and diversity; etc.

7. Are the situations in which relevant persons can exercise their academic freedom clear? For example, should their freedom be limited to their work within an institution, as opposed to views they may express outwith the institution?”   

How to submit your views

The closing date for responses is Friday 4 September 2015. Please keep your response as concise as possible.  All responses should be sent to the Committee Clerk at [email protected] (we would prefer to receive submissions in Microsoft Word).

Alternatively, you may use the following address: Clerk to the Education and Culture Committee, Room T3.40, The Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, EH99 1SP. 

We will handle responses in accordance with the Parliament’s policy for the treatment of evidence, which is available on the Parliament’s website at www.scottish.parliament.uk/treatment-of-evidence

What happens next?

After the Committee has gathered responses to its questions about the Bill, it will invite people and organisations to attend meetings at the Scottish Parliament to answer questions about the Bill (in other words, to provide ‘oral evidence’). The Committee will decide who to invite in due course. 

These meetings are likely to be held on Tuesday mornings in October 2015, and it would be helpful if you could indicate as soon as possible whether you would like to take part in these meetings. However, there is no guarantee that your request will be agreed to by the Committee.

Any questions?

If you have any questions about the Committee's work, you can contact the Committee clerks by emailing  [email protected], or by calling 0131 348 5222.  You can also call using the Text Relay service on 18001 0131 348 5222.