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Pete Downes: There are big risks in tying our universities up in unnecessary red tape

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 11:01
This piece originally appeared in The Herald on Monday 13 April 2015 titled 'There are big risks in tying our universities up in unnecessary red tape'.In the rush to get things done, sometimes the best approach is to pause, take a step back and revisit what it is you are hoping to achieve.The responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on higher education governance legislation are a clear indication that the Scottish Government should do exactly that. They make for a challenging read. They expose a depth and a breadth of concern.These concerns aren't just from the university sector. A broad swathe of civic Scotland has been very vocal in its objection to the Government's proposals. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Council Development and Industry, the Institute of Directors as well as student associations at Glasgow, St Andrews, Dundee and Queen Margaret universities are just a few of those who have spoken out against aspects of the proposals. In the rush to get things done, sometimes the best approach is to pause, take a step back and revisit what it is you are hoping to achieve.The responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on higher education governance legislation are a clear indication that the Scottish Government should do exactly that. They make for a challenging read. They expose a depth and a breadth of concern.These concerns aren't just from the university sector. A broad swathe of civic Scotland has been very vocal in its objection to the Government's proposals. The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scottish Council Development and Industry, the Institute of Directors as well as student associations at Glasgow, St Andrews, Dundee and Queen Margaret universities are just a few of those who have spoken out against aspects of the proposals.Independent voices have clearly identified how the legislative proposals would reduce the diversity of chairmen and women of university courts, create a muddle of conflicting accountabilities, and place universities' trade union partners in an impossible conflict of interest. Ultimately the planned legislation would reduce universities' effectiveness.Civic Scotland has added weight to universities' evidence-based concerns. There is a strongly-held belief amongst the majority of stakeholders that some of these proposals would deliver the very opposite of good governance and that legislation is not the right course of action.These views stack up in number. According to the analysis commissioned by the Scottish Government the proposal to elect the chairman or woman and ring-fence places on the governing body for representatives were opposed by 78 per cent and 67 per cent respectively with the suggestion of legislating to rename principals as Chief Executive Officers rejected by 91 per cent.The Scottish Government must reconsider. Now must be the time to consider other options for making progress with this agenda.Everyone with an interest in university governance shares a belief in robust accountability, transparency and diversity in our governance structures. We also believe in high-performing universities that are responsive to their many stakeholders including staff and students, government and other funders, business interests and the wider community.There is already a review of the code on higher education governance scheduled for next year. Moving forward in this way would remove the need for legislation but could also give a voice to those who call for further evolution of governance practice.The other shared belief is in high performing universities that deliver for Scotland. My fellow principals have a huge appetite for this and it is clear from the new economic strategy that the Scottish Government sees a central role for universities. The key themes of that strategy are:We're one of Scotland's best investments, generating more than £6 of gross added value for every £1 of Scottish Government investment and creating the skills for economic growth.We're Scotland's leading source of innovation, from blue-skies discovery to practical work with more than 19,000 Scottish businesses a year.We're a leading force for internationalisation, attracting nearly 30,000 students from 180 countries giving Scottish students the opportunity to learn from a wide range of cultures.We're deeply committed to inclusive growth, with outreach to all ages to enable learners from challenged socio-economic backgrounds to realise their full potential.Surely the priority must be to consider how universities can best increase these contributions? Well governed universities will help us do that. Tying the sector up in highly complex legislation which will fail to capture the diverse character and origins of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions is unlikely to help deliver anything productive.It would be easy to use the strongly adverse responses to this consultation as a reason for conflict. That is not what we want to achieve. Let's take the opportunity presented by the consultation responses to take a step back and take a more balanced look at how universities can continue to be progressive, open and accountable. The way forward lies in inclusive process of reviewing the current higher education governance code and a careful re-thinking of what the content of any legislation should be.Professor Pete Downes is covener of Universities Scotland and principal of the University of Dundee.This piece originally appeared in The Herald on Monday 13 April 2015 titled 'There are big risks in tying our universities up in unnecessary red tape'. 
Categories: Universities

University principals ask the Scottish Government to stop and think about potentially damaging governance proposals in light of strong concern from civic Scotland

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 08:00
Business leaders, student associations and other independent commentators have added weight to the serious concern already expressed by university leaders at Scottish Government proposals to legislate on higher education governance.The Scottish Government has published an analysis of the written responses to its consultation on higher education governance today (Thursday 9 April). Over 125 submissions have been made to the consultation from across the breadth of civic Scotland as well as from higher education institutions themselves and their student and staff unions.A strong majority of the responses, including a great many of those received from outside of the higher education sector, raise cause for concern about some or all of the Scottish Government's proposals. The balance of such serious concerns must be reflected in the Scottish Government's response.Reacting to the summary of responses, university leaders are asking the Scottish Government to stop and think; to work with universities to find ways forward that acknowledge these concerns. Business leaders, student associations and other independent commentators have added weight to the serious concern already expressed by university leaders at Scottish Government proposals to legislate on higher education governance.The Scottish Government has published an analysis of the written responses to its consultation on higher education governance today (Thursday 9 April). Over 125 submissions have been made to the consultation from across the breadth of civic Scotland as well as from higher education institutions themselves and their student and staff unions.A strong majority of the responses, including a great many of those received from outside of the higher education sector, raise cause for concern about some or all of the Scottish Government's proposals. The balance of such serious concerns must be reflected in the Scottish Government's response.Reacting to the summary of responses, university leaders are asking the Scottish Government to stop and think; to work with universities to find ways forward that acknowledge these concerns. The analysis of written responses, undertaken by The Research Shop on behalf of the Scottish Government, found:91 per cent opposed to legislating to rename a university Principal as Chief Executive Officer (paragraph 1.15 in the report).78 per cent opposed to the proposal to legislate that the selection process for the Chair of the governing body should culminate in an election by a group of representatives both internal and external to the university (paragraph 1.19).67 per cent opposed to legislating to reserve seats for students, staff, alumni and trade union representatives (paragraph 1.34). Staff and students are already represented on the governing bodies of all Scottish higher education institutions under existing governance arrangements. The proposal to ring-fence seats on the governing body for trade unions is new and does not represent current practice.91 per cent agreed that the position of Chair of the governing body should be selected through open and transparent process including external advertisement (paragraph 1.17-1.18). This has been standard practice across the university sector since the introduction of the Scottish Code of Good HE Governance in 2013. Legislation is not required to deliver this.There are several recurring themes amongst the objections from civic Scotland, business leaders and some student associations, including:Concern at the lack of evidence presented for the need for change.A strong view that legislation is the not the right course of action.Concerns that aspect of the proposals actually have the potential to weaken good governance, including a proposal which would sever the link of accountability between Chair and governing body.Concerns about the introduction of ‘representatives' on governing bodies, eroding the principle that governors serve solely in the interest of the institution and creating potential conflicts of interest.Emphasis on the importance of university autonomy and concerns over the potential to politicise universities.Extracts from the consultation responses from organisations outside of the university sector and student associations, as shown below, reveal the intensity of feeling and level of concern these proposals have provoked from within civic Scotland and parts of the student community in addition to that felt by university Principals and governing bodies.Universities Scotland and every one of the 19 higher education institutions it represents is committed to good governance that is robustly transparent, inclusive, accountable and effective. As autonomous, charitable organisations higher education institutions should remain responsible for their governance mechanisms which already ensure the involvement of staff, students and wider university communities and have strong lines of accountability to Government and other funders. Highly-prescriptive and badly planned legislation would be a damaging distraction from what universities really want to prioritise, which is their contribution to inclusive economic growth.As stakeholder opinions are made clear, the Scottish Government should acknowledge the concerns raised and engage with university leaders and other stakeholders to determine a better way to progress our shared goal of excellent governance. Responding to today's summary of the consultation responses, Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal at the University of Dundee, said:"We need government urgently to engage with university leaders to find a way forward. The weight of consultation responses from civic Scotland and the level of concern expressed, on top of that already made clear by universities, mean that ministers need to pause and take stock."Universities are committed to promoting Scotland's inclusive economic growth and to workforce engagement. We have students and staff at the heart of our governance."We need ministers to reflect seriously on the wide range of evidence that says the proposals in the consultation paper will damage universities' contribution to Scotland's success. We would welcome close engagement with government on finding solutions that support transparent and effective governance."Two proposals in the consultation paper seriously threaten to undermine the practice of good governance in the university sector. The proposal to elect the Chair may seem to reflect the democratic ideal on face value but it risks severing an essential link of accountability between the Chair and the governing body and weakening the role of all other members of the governing body.The proposal to introduce the concept of representation to governing body membership, with the addition of seats reserved for trade union representatives, threatens to erode the established principle of good governance that governing body members should serve in the interests of the institution, not in the specific sectional interest of those they represent.Universities have strong and robust relationships with five recognised trade unions, which represent 26 per cent of staff, and engage and negotiate with unions on a range of issues through established mechanisms. Universities Scotland's objection to trade union membership on the governing body in a representative capacity has no bearing on any other role played by trade unions within the university sector. A new Code of governance, developed by the sector in wide consultation with staff and students at every higher education institution and introduced in 2013, has already delivered over 350 new actions across the sector over the last eighteen months. Elements of good governance, currently practiced by institutions, are not recognised in the Scottish Government consultation including the open and transparent recruitment process for the most senior role in university governance, that of the Chair, with publication of a job description and skills matrix. Staff and students sit on selection panels and have a role in both the appointment and appraisal of the Chair and of the Principal. At the time the Code was launched a commitment was made to review its effectiveness in 2016. This will provide an inclusive opportunity to determine whether further change in governance is necessary and how it should be delivered.Extracts from consultation responsesRelevant extracts taken from submissions made directly to the Scottish Government as part of its consultation exercise can be read here and and are published in full on the Scottish Government website here.NotesThe analysis of written responses undertaken by The Research Shop on behalf of the Scottish Government and published by the Scottish Government on 9 April can be found here. The analysis of written responses states that 125 submissions were received (page 1). 107 are published on the Scottish Government's website.The full list of responses to the Scottish Government's consultation on legislation for HE governance can be found here. Universities Scotland's response to the consultation can be found here.  
Categories: Universities

Universities commit to a minimum of 40 per cent of both genders on boards

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 08:00
The Chairs of Scotland's 18 higher education institutions[1] have today [Thursday, 9 April] announced a commitment to achieve gender equality within the membership of their governing bodies, the highest level of governance within a university.The commitment to achieve a minimum of 40 per cent of both men and women on the governing body [2], with the remaining 20 per cent of either gender, applies to the board's independent members who are defined as defined as both external and independent of the institution and who should form the majority of governing body membership.Progress against the commitment will be reviewed in 2018 which gives the sector scope to deliver change as independent members typically serve for a period of three or four years with the option of renewal. The commitment from the Chairs of universities' governing bodies is made in recognition that having diverse and suitably qualified members on the governing body is good for governance. Every institution remains committed to attracting and appointing the very best candidates with the skills and experience needed for the role. Today's commitment represents the best way to achieve gender equality on boards and retain effective and accountable governance. The Chairs of Scotland's 18 higher education institutions[1] have today [Thursday, 9 April] announced a commitment to achieve gender equality within the membership of their governing bodies, the highest level of governance within a university.The commitment to achieve a minimum of 40 per cent of both men and women on the governing body [2], with the remaining 20 per cent of either gender, applies to the board's independent members who are defined as defined as both external and independent of the institution and who should form the majority of governing body membership.Progress against the commitment will be reviewed in 2018 which gives the sector scope to deliver change as independent members typically serve for a period of three or four years with the option of renewal. The commitment from the Chairs of universities' governing bodies is made in recognition that having diverse and suitably qualified members on the governing body is good for governance. Every institution remains committed to attracting and appointing the very best candidates with the skills and experience needed for the role. Today's commitment represents the best way to achieve gender equality on boards and retain effective and accountable governance.A minimum requirement of 40 per cent of both genders on boards is recognised as good practice across Europe as it reflects the practicalities of securing gender equality in the membership of small groups[3]. Across Scotland's eighteen higher education institutions women currently comprise 32 per cent of all independent members[4]. This compares to FTSE 100 companies where women occupied 22.8 per cent of boards positions in 2014 and to public sector bodies where women hold an average of 29 per cent of the seats[5]. The commitment made today can only apply to independent members of universities' governing bodies who are external and independent of the institution. Most of the remaining members are elected by university staff, students and sometimes university alumni. On average, two students and several members of academic and non-academic staff sit on a university's governing body[6]. Chairs recognise the right of staff and students to make their own choices with regards to who serves on their behalf and so this commitment cannot and does not extend to these roles. However, if staff and students were to make a similar commitment to achieve a minimum of 40 per cent of both genders amongst their chosen candidates higher education institutions would be able to work towards the achievement of gender equality of the full membership of governing bodies. David Ross, Chair of the Committee of Scottish Chairs and Chair of the governing body at the University of Glasgow, said:"Our higher education sector thrives on diversity whether that is diversity of opinion and perspective or the diversity of the 18 higher education institutions themselves so we must do everything we reasonably can to ensure that our governing bodies - the place where strategic decisions are made - reflect and encourage diversity amongst their membership. That is the commitment we are making today."I am delighted that the Chairs of every institution have come together to make this commitment on gender equality. Women currently represent around 32 per cent of universities' independent membership but we are determined to do better than that and achieve a minimum of 40 per cent of both genders in these roles."The issue of gender imbalance on governing bodies is not unique to universities. Universities will work hard to attract high-calibre and experienced candidates from both genders and from a wide range of backgrounds to serve as governors. "This commitment can only extend as far as independent members of the governing body because staff and student stakeholders rightly have the freedom to elect their own candidates. We ask the students and staff in our institutions to consider making a similar commitment."Jennifer Craw, Chair of the governing body at Robert Gordon University, said:"As chair of one of Scotland's universities I am proud we are making a commitment to achieve a minimum 40 per cent gender balance in our independently appointed board members. Robert Gordon University like many others is seeking to continue to enhance good governance and attract a diversity of talent, knowledge and skills to our board. I believe that the commitment on gender we have made, serves as a clear signal of encouragement to prospective governors."Universities are working to increase their appeal to prospective female governors through a variety of means including open and transparent advertisement of vacancies, targeted advertisements through Women on Boards and in specialist press and relaxation of the requirement for previous board experience. At a sector level universities are working with the national body, the Equality Challenge Unit, with a view to increasing the diversity of governing bodies. A report on this work is expected in June 2015. Responding to the commitment, Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal at the University of Dundee said:"I welcome this initiative from the Chairs and will give it my full support as Principal of the University of Dundee. Universities already reflect their mix of stakeholders within the governing body with seats reserved for staff, student and independent members but until now there have been no clear goals for the representation of both genders. "This is a very positive step. The 40:40:20 approach to gender balance gives institutions some flexibility to ensure we continue to appoint the strongest candidates to what are strategically important roles. This is important for good governance, for the candidates themselves and to ensure that our universities remain competitive."NOTESThere are 19 higher education institutions in Scotland. Whilst the Open University in Scotland is committed to gender equality it is not included as part of this Scotland-wide commitment because its governance arrangements reflect the fact that it operates in all four nations of the United Kingdom. University governing bodies, often referred to as the courts or as board of governors, are the equivalent of boards within the third sector or private sector. The campaign for 40:40:20 gender representation in the UK is run by the organisation, Women on Boards. This is well established practice in several European countries.These figures are correct as of September 2014.Figure on female representation on FTSE 100 companies is taken from Women on Boards. The figure can be found here. Figures on female representation on public sector bodies is also research conducted by Women on Boards and can be found cited here. The Scottish Code of Good HE Governance states that a governing body of a university should have no more than 25 members, the majority of which should be independent members. On average, one third of members of the governing body are made up of staff, student and sometimes alumni membership. These members are elected by the staff, students and alumni themselves.Institutions also have an interest in increasing the diversity of membership beyond gender to include other protected characteristics as well as ensuring that people from a range of socio-economic backgrounds serve on the governing body. This is stated in the Scottish Code of Good HE Governance which applies to all 19 higher education institutions and was introduced in 2013. www.scottishuniversitygovernance.ac.uk The Chairs' policy statement on gender on governing bodies reads:The members of the Committee of Scottish Chairs of HE Institutions believe that gender balance, diversity and equality of opportunity on governing bodies strengthen governance. They have resolved to work together with other members of their governing bodies to do everything which they reasonably can to achieve gender balance in the membership of their governing bodies consistent with existing laws and the Code of Good HE Governance. In particular they will aim to achieve, on a timescale which may vary according to the circumstances of each Institution, a minimum of 40 percent of each gender among the independent members of the governing body; and will measure success by the extent to which this has been achieved for the sector by 2018 HEIs already comply with the provisions of the Code of Good HE Governance by establishing appropriate goals and policies in regard to the balance of their independent membership in terms of equality and diversity. Already a third have expressed their goals for gender balance in quantified terms. This Code will be reviewed in 2016 in the light of experience. The significance of this policy statement is that in advance of that review the leaders of governing bodies are collectively undertaking to use their best efforts to see quantified goals and timetables adopted for gender balance among independent members across the sector. These will not be quantified goals for the whole membership of Courts/Boards, only of independent members. The composition of Institutions' governing bodies varies considerably but all have some members who are chosen by groups of staff and students and some also have members chosen by external stakeholders. Chairs recognise the right of all these stakeholder groups to make their own choice but will seek their support for the principle of gender balanced governing bodies and will encourage them to use their best efforts to identify and encourage diverse candidates for the positions on governing bodies which they fill by appointment or election.
Categories: Universities

Widening access to higher education in Scotland

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 14:11
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) released its ninth Learning for All report on 24 March 2015. This brief pulls out some of the key facts from that report as they relate to higher education institutions and offers further analysis of SFC data. Read 'Widening access to higher education in Scotland' The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) released its ninth Learning for All report on 24 March 2015. This brief pulls out some of the key facts from that report as they relate to higher education institutions and offers further analysis of SFC data. Read 'Widening access to higher education in Scotland'
Categories: Universities

Advances on access to university for students of all backgrounds shows that taking a wide approach to widening access pays off

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 13:38
Figures released today by the Scottish Funding Council [Wednesday 25 March] in its ninth Learning for All report show increases in the number of students starting university from across a wide range of under-represented groups including:students living in Scotland's most deprived 20 and 40 per cent of neighbourhoods - up 10.1 per cent and 8 per cent respectively on last year (table 1).pupils from low participation schools - up 11.7 per cent on last year (table 2)students who enter university direct from college with full recognition of their Higher National qualification - up 9.2 per cent on last year (table 3)University efforts over the last year, building on what is a long-term priority of widening access within the higher education sector, have delivered further change to the profile of entrants to university with 14.0 per cent of all Scottish domiciled entrants now drawn from the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, SIMD) and 30 per cent now drawn from the 40 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods.In recent years, universities have been encouraged to make the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation the focus of of their widening access programmes when it comes to targeting students and tracking progress. Universities have long argued that Scotland should take a wider approach to widening access, not least due to limitations inherent in SIMD as a measure and because using only the SIMD would mean other students not fitting this criteria, but with the potential to benefit from a higher education, would be overlooked.Commenting on the progress shown in today's figures, Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of the University of Dundee, said:"Universities are deeply committed to widening access to as many people that have the potential to benefit as possible. We have been working for decades to support people from all backgrounds into higher education. The progress made on widening access, demonstrated in today's figures, builds on steady improvement over the last few years. We are moving in the right direction and we are making a difference to people's lives."The goal is to widen access and it is a goal that everyone is committed to within higher education, throughout all levels of education and across all parties in our parliament. We want to see that commitment extend to policymakers taking a wide and inclusive approach to widening access because the people with the potential to benefit from a higher education, the people universities are reaching out to, are individuals with diverse sets of circumstances. "SFC's report highlights the continuing attainment gap between school leavers from deprived and privileged backgrounds. We welcome action to address this and look forward to making a full contribution to the widening access commission. Universities are committed to further progress to ensure that learners from every community can realise their full potential."Read the full Universities Scotland news release Figures released today by the Scottish Funding Council [Wednesday 25 March] in its ninth Learning for All report show increases in the number of students starting university from across a wide range of under-represented groups including:students living in Scotland's most deprived 20 and 40 per cent of neighbourhoods - up 10.1 per cent and 8 per cent respectively on last year (table 1).pupils from low participation schools - up 11.7 per cent on last year (table 2)students who enter university direct from college with full recognition of their Higher National qualification - up 9.2 per cent on last year (table 3)University efforts over the last year, building on what is a long-term priority of widening access within the higher education sector, have delivered further change to the profile of entrants to university with 14.0 per cent of all Scottish domiciled entrants now drawn from the most deprived 20 per cent of neighbourhoods (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, SIMD) and 30 per cent now drawn from the 40 per cent most deprived neighbourhoods.In recent years, universities have been encouraged to make the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation the focus of of their widening access programmes when it comes to targeting students and tracking progress. Universities have long argued that Scotland should take a wider approach to widening access, not least due to limitations inherent in SIMD as a measure and because using only the SIMD would mean other students not fitting this criteria, but with the potential to benefit from a higher education, would be overlooked.Commenting on the progress shown in today's figures, Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal of the University of Dundee, said:"Universities are deeply committed to widening access to as many people that have the potential to benefit as possible. We have been working for decades to support people from all backgrounds into higher education. The progress made on widening access, demonstrated in today's figures, builds on steady improvement over the last few years. We are moving in the right direction and we are making a difference to people's lives."The goal is to widen access and it is a goal that everyone is committed to within higher education, throughout all levels of education and across all parties in our parliament. We want to see that commitment extend to policymakers taking a wide and inclusive approach to widening access because the people with the potential to benefit from a higher education, the people universities are reaching out to, are individuals with diverse sets of circumstances. "SFC's report highlights the continuing attainment gap between school leavers from deprived and privileged backgrounds. We welcome action to address this and look forward to making a full contribution to the widening access commission. Universities are committed to further progress to ensure that learners from every community can realise their full potential."Extra places ring-fenced for accessThis year's data captures the beginning of the impact of new additional university places that were ring-fenced by the Scottish Government for students starting university in 2013/14 from the most deprived 40 per cent of neighbourhoods (SIMD40). The extra places were given to nine higher education institutions to enable them to make offers to a greater number of underrepresented students without increasing the pressure on places available to all students.Today's figures show the first year of this initiative has been successful. The group of nine higher education institutions which received additional widening access places increased the number of entrants from the poorest 20 per cent of neighbourhoods by 22 per cent in one year. Overall, the increase in entrants from the poorest 40 per cent of neighbourhoods increased by 19 per cent, meaning that very close to half of the additional places went to students from neighbourhoods affected by the worst levels of deprivation (table 1).Commenting on the additional places, Professor Downes said:"The extra places recognised that widening access at university level is more challenging when the competition for places is fierce because of high demand. With a 22 per cent increase in entrants from the poorest neighbourhoods to these institutions, the data show it has been successful and has helped many universities deliver a higher rate of progress this year than might otherwise have been possible. "We're right at the start of this new approach and we'd expect it to keep delivering in the years to come especially as the places were awarded mid-year and universities didn't have much time to get to promote the new places to the right audience or link-up to their partnerships with schools. More people could benefit from the idea behind the extra places if the criteria were widened beyond a narrow measure of deprivation to include other aspects of underrepresentation."Despite continued progress, universities are not complacent about the need to do more to open up opportunities to students from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible. The new ring-fenced access places, introduced in 2013, were given to institutions mid-way through the admissions process which meant there was limited time to raise awareness and encourage people to apply. The initiative has been rolled on for subsequent years and this will allow universities to make better connections between the additional places and their outreach programmes and links with schools. RetentionThe data show the boost to widening access is matched by further increases in university retention rates with another year-on-year improvement to 91.3 per cent of full-time Scottish domiciled undergraduate students. The statistics also show good progress in improving in the retention rates of students from the poorest 20 per cent and 40 per cent of neighbourhoods according to the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD20 and SIMD40). The retention rate for students from SIMD20 neighbourhoods now sits at 87.3 per cent, up from 85.5 per cent last year and 84 per cent four years ago. Performance Indicators also publishedThe Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) also released performance indicators today showing access and retention figures for universities across the UK. This set of data also show Scotland's higher education institutions making progress on measures of access and retention although differences in the methodological approach taken by the Scottish Funding Council and HESA, with the SFC primarily focusing on the progress amongst Scottish-domiciled students at Scottish higher education institutions, mean the data do not necessarily correspond across the datasets. The HESA performance indicators can be found here: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/pisNOTESThe SFC's ninth Learning for All report can be found here: http://www.sfc.ac.uk/communications/Statisticalpublications/2015/SFCST062015.aspx The data in the tables below is taken from that available in the SFC report and in additional tables made available online by the SFC.Data tables are available in the PDF version of this Universities Scotland news release here. 
Categories: Universities

Alastair Sim: Life as an academic

Wed, 03/25/2015 - 12:52
This piece originally appeared in The Scotsman on Wednesday 25 March 2015 titled 'Academic work more than satisfactory'. I was surprised to read the results of a YouGov poll last month that found more people across Britain wanted to be a university academic than a TV presenter, interior designer or Hollywood star. The role of academic was the third most popular out of 31 occupations. It was beaten only by author and librarian, which led the report to suggest it was the thought of a "quiet intellectual life" that appealed to people. Quiet is probably one of the last words that academics in our universities today would use to describe their job. Whether working in an academic, professional or support role university staff face the same high expectations, pressures and demanding schedule as most other professions. Universities - and so their staff - face a demanding set of expectations from students (fee-paying or not), from businesses, their communities, government, charity and other investors. It's not an easy role. Scotland's higher education sector already has it right on democratic approach to management/union relations, writes Alastair SimI was surprised to read the results of a YouGov poll last month that found more people across Britain wanted to be a university academic than a TV presenter, interior designer or Hollywood star. The role of academic was the third most popular out of 31 occupations. It was beaten only by author and librarian, which led the report to suggest it was the thought of a "quiet intellectual life" that appealed to people. Quiet is probably one of the last words that academics in our universities today would use to describe their job. Whether working in an academic, professional or support role university staff face the same high expectations, pressures and demanding schedule as most other professions. Universities - and so their staff - face a demanding set of expectations from students (fee-paying or not), from businesses, their communities, government, charity and other investors. It's not an easy role.This being the case, it's probably more surprising that satisfaction levels are so high among university employees. More than 80 per cent of staff polled last year said their job was a source of satisfaction and close to three-quarters said they found it rewarding. There has been a lot of focus in recent months on the fair work agenda in Scotland with the creation of a Cabinet secretary for fair work, skills and training and the publication of the Working Together report on workplace relations. Higher education institutions are well-placed when it comes to this agenda, if not ahead of many sections of our economy, and that is probably no small contributing factor to high levels of staff satisfaction.Many of the recommendations in Jim Mather's Working Together review are already standard practice within the sector. He wanted an increase in workplace democracy with worker membership on boards. This is the case for every university as academic and non-academic staff sit on the governing body, elected by their peers. The second most powerful body within a university is that of the academic board or senate which regulates teaching and research matters. This gives the academic community a strong, democratic voice.The report also called for greater value to be placed on partnership between management and unions. Again, this is well-established with joint negotiating committees between university management and unions representing 27 per cent of university staff. Working Together also favoured industry-wide collective bargaining. Every UK university is involved in annual collective pay bargaining which last year saw staff awarded a 2 per cent rise.We are confident that close to 100 per cent of staff working across the university sector, covered by collective pay arrangements and working a 35-hour week, is at or above the living wage. The sector has taken action, such as in 2014-15, to "bottom-weight" the pay deal so that the hourly rate equivalent for someone on the lowest pay spine point and working 35 hours a week came into line with the living wage. We are also considering what further, sustainable, action we might be able to take. A commitment has already been made that the new rate of living wage for 2015-16, announced last November, will be part of the discussions for the 2015-16 pay settlement. Flexible contracts are in use where this makes sense for the employer and employee. Student shifts at ad hoc university events or guest lecturers from business and industry coming to share their practical experience as part of the teaching programme would be examples of where these kind of contracts serve a purpose. But no university in Scotland makes use of exploitative contracts which keep people "on call" for speculative work or apply exclusivity clauses so staff are unable to take employment elsewhere. University management has also agreed on joint work with the unions to define the appropriate use of flexible contracts. Scotland's 19 higher education institutions employ close to 40,000 people. Inevitably within a workforce of that scale there are issues of contention and dissatisfaction. For a sector that exists to encourage freedom of thought and critical thinking it is no surprise that staff take different views to that of management on some issues. However, we have the mechanisms to address those issues and discuss our disagreements constructively with staff in an open and robust form whether that's in the joint negotiating committees with unions, at senate meetings or at the very highest level in the governing body. Working as an academic is a popular and challenging choice of career. Let's work together to keep improving its satisfaction.Alastair Sim, Director, Universities Scotland This piece originally appeared in The Scotsman on Wednesday 25 March 2015 titled 'Academic work more than satisfactory'.  
Categories: Universities

Scotland's universities welcome appointment of Chair to Widening Access Commission

Tue, 03/17/2015 - 14:17
Universities Scotland has today, Tuesday 17 March, warmly welcomed the announcement of Dame Ruth Silver's appointment to Chair the Scottish Government's Commission on Widening Access.Scotland's universities are committed to widening access to university for every single child with the desire and ability, no matter what their background, and are supportive of the establishment of a Widening Access Commission which will take a holistic perspective on how to enhance young peoples' attainments and opportunities. Every one of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions is committed to promoting wide access to higher education and will support the work of the Commission, contributing in shared responsibility to raising the educational attainment of all of Scotland's school pupils and in closing the attainment gap that is already evident between Scotland's wealthiest and poorest children as young as five years of age. Welcoming today's announcement Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland said: "We fully support Dame Ruth and the work of the Commission to address the issue of narrowing the attainment gap. We look forward to working with her and all the members of the Widening Access Commission in our shared ambition to ensure that every learner has the opportunity to benefit from a university education and realise their full potential." "Dame Ruth's extensive personal and professional experience will bring a wealth of understanding and knowledge to the appointment, in recognising that access to university is a shared challenge and there is a role for schools, colleges and, local authorities to play in this as well as universities. We are all united in our determination to raise attainment, and we hope that the membership of that Commission will reflect the breadth of contributions to widening access. Every level in Scotland's education sector has a shared responsibility and commitment if we are to make a significant difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged of society." Universities Scotland has today, Tuesday 17 March, warmly welcomed the announcement of Dame Ruth Silver's appointment to Chair the Scottish Government's Commission on Widening Access.Scotland's universities are committed to widening access to university for every single child with the desire and ability, no matter what their background, and are supportive of the establishment of a Widening Access Commission which will take a holistic perspective on how to enhance young peoples' attainments and opportunities. Every one of Scotland's 19 higher education institutions is committed to promoting wide access to higher education and will support the work of the Commission, contributing in shared responsibility to raising the educational attainment of all of Scotland's school pupils and in closing the attainment gap that is already evident between Scotland's wealthiest and poorest children as young as five years of age. Welcoming today's announcement Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland said: "We fully support Dame Ruth and the work of the Commission to address the issue of narrowing the attainment gap. We look forward to working with her and all the members of the Widening Access Commission in our shared ambition to ensure that every learner has the opportunity to benefit from a university education and realise their full potential." "Dame Ruth's extensive personal and professional experience will bring a wealth of understanding and knowledge to the appointment, in recognising that access to university is a shared challenge and there is a role for schools, colleges and, local authorities to play in this as well as universities. We are all united in our determination to raise attainment, and we hope that the membership of that Commission will reflect the breadth of contributions to widening access. Every level in Scotland's education sector has a shared responsibility and commitment if we are to make a significant difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged of society." NotesThe proportion of undergraduate university entrants from SIMD20 increased in 2012-13 from 12.8% to 13.3%, and the proportion from SIMD40 increased from 28.6% to 29%.What are universities doing to raise attainment? All Scotland's higher education institutions are working hard to promote wide access to university-level education, in a life-cycle approach which extends from the earliest years to the third age. See Access All Areas. Examples include:Interventions in the pre-school and primary years Interventions in the pre-school and primary years e.g. Glasgow Caledonian University's Caledonian Club which works with young people and families in deprived areas of Glasgow to raise educational aspirations and to open the University to the community; University of Strathclyde's Children's University which allows children from age seven to experience further and higher education and access special lectures and conducted visits at the university and other learning activities; and Abertay University's highly interactive Tayside Space School which gives 80 primary school pupils the chance to study various aspects of space travel and exploration and raises their awareness of science and technology. Glasgow School of Art's Continuing Education department offers a wide range of courses for children aged seven to eleven years of age on Saturday mornings and afternoon as week-long courses during the summer.Interventions to promote aspiration in secondary-age children e.g. University of Edinburgh works with secondary schools and their feeder primaries to normalise structures and experiences of higher and further education for pupils who work with university staff and role model students; Edinburgh Napier University's Build a Business in a Day works with S2 pupils from ten schools across Fife, the Lothians and Borders to give an insight into entrepreneurship and teamwork in a university setting; and Entry to the Creative Industries run by the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland provides opportunities and tailored support to pupils who are interesting in progressing in the performing or production arts from 37 schools in the west of Scotland with below average progression rates to higher education.Interventions to support senior phase learners to achieve qualifications for university-level study e.g. University of Aberdeen's S6@Uni programme works in partnership with schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to provide a broad range of opportunities for S6 pupils including courses to complement existing Advanced Highers or replace provision at the same SCQF level where no Advanced Higher is offered; Queen Margaret University's innovative Academy model is pushing the boundaries of traditional education to offer real job and education opportunities to senior school pupils in Edinburgh, East and Midlothian in partnership with the local college, local authorities and industry; and the national SCHOLAR programme of e-learning courseware offered by Heriot-Watt University incorporates interactive, engaging online materials in over 30 courses for use by students in their final year of school to help reshape their skills for the challenges of the 21st century.Interventions such as summer schools to give learners from challenged backgrounds an extra chance e.g. University of St Andrew's Sutton Trust Summer School has 130 pupils with backgrounds of socio-economic and education disadvantage participating each year with a focus to encourage them to apply for competitive courses and universities; and the University of Dundee's DUAL summer school which has been running for 21 years offers students a six-week intensive tuition programme to prove they can take a place at university and acclimatises them to the demands they will face. Similarly The University of Glasgow runs Taster Weeks in June or July every year with up to 200 S5 and S6 pupils participating, some of whom will come from schools with a low progression rate to higher education and others will live in the 40 per cent most disadvantaged areas. Links with colleges e.g. Robert Gordon University is the lead institution within the north-east articulation hub in conjunction with Aberdeen College and Banff & Buchan College and has formal agreements in place with a number of others. At the heart of the creation of Scotland's Rural College (SRUC) has been the desire to bring together the four land based education institutions into one. SRUC students are identified and supported towards their future study plans earlier in their academic careers, enabling pupils to leave school with National 4s an and 5s, specialising in land based subject at the earliest opportunity. The University of Stirling's Twogether are innovative education and skills programmes in applied biological sciences and heritage and conservation that go o beyond traditional 2 +2 articulation arrangements between further education colleges and universities and are wholly integrated with student enrolled as college and university students.Promotion of ‘second chances' to learn e.g. the Open University in Scotland's Openings modules which are open to adults from all educational backgrounds as a gentle introduction to further study and allow students to earn 15 credits at SCQF level 7 for successfully completing them; the University of the Highlands and Islands offers a range of Access to courses designed to help people into university study who have been away from study for a number of years or lack the usual entry requirements; and the University of the West of Scotland's Making Experience Count programme at its Lifelong Learning Academy gives advice and guidance to students and staff on Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) to help them decide on further study or personal and professional development options.
Categories: Universities

Cut to university research funding see Scotland's "world class" universities as victims of their own success

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 14:44
Allocations of the Scottish Funding Council's main research grants for higher education institutions were announced today (6 March). The announcement confirms a much-feared cut of £12.9 million to funds available for university research next year. Several individual universities will lose millions in funding despite returning their strongest performance in "world-leading" research as confirmed by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) only two months ago.Universities only receive public funding for research judged to be "world leading" or "international excellent" (work rated 4* and 3*) according to a formula calculated by the Scottish Funding Council. As the REF judged a greater proportion of the work submitted by all eighteen of Scotland's universities[1] to be at the highest levels of excellence, a smaller total pot of funding must now be shared more thinly across a greater number of institutions with high levels of 3* and 4* research.Read the full Universities Scotland news release.  Allocations of the Scottish Funding Council's main research grants for higher education institutions were announced today (6 March). The announcement confirms a much-feared cut of £12.9 million to funds available for university research next year. Several individual universities will lose millions in funding despite returning their strongest performance in "world-leading" research as confirmed by the Research Excellence Framework (REF) only two months ago.Universities only receive public funding for research judged to be "world leading" or "international excellent" (work rated 4* and 3*) according to a formula calculated by the Scottish Funding Council. As the REF judged a greater proportion of the work submitted by all eighteen of Scotland's universities[1] to be at the highest levels of excellence, a smaller total pot of funding must now be shared more thinly across a greater number of institutions with high levels of 3* and 4* research.The Universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Dundee and Aberdeen are all set to lose more than a million pounds in research funding because of the funding constraints. The Glasgow School of Art will also see a significant drop in its research funding. Other universities, with particular areas of research excellence including Queen Margaret University and the University of the Highlands and Islands produced stellar results in the 2014 REF, rocketing up UK league tables for research performance. They have been rewarded for their significant progress with meagre increases of only £128,000 and £400,000 respectively. Whilst the funding announcement comes as no surprise it is disappointing to the higher education sector particularly as it comes in the same week at the Scottish Government's refreshed Economic Strategy which put a priority on innovation and recognised the role that universities can play in Scotland's economic growth. The document said that: "investing in Scotland's universities, supporting their world-class and high-impact research... is at the heart of the Scottish Government's ambitions for Scotland."[2]Universities will be looking for reconsideration of the cut to research funding in the next spending review.Responding to the funding allocations Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland and Principal at the University of Dundee, said:"It is incredibly disheartening to go from such a high in December and a feeling of great pride when our universities were confirmed as world-class and as delivering outstanding impact for Scotland through their research, to today's funding allocations which confirm that many will lose out and there is no scope to build on that success. It's very difficult not to feel like universities have become victims of their own success."We have a fantastic asset here in the quality of our research. Scotland should be investing in its strengths. The quality of our basic research links to our nation's innovation potential, to business growth, to inward investment and ultimately plays a significant role in Scotland's strategy for economic growth. Universities are hungry for the chance to maximise their contribution to Scotland's economy and the REF showed we're more than up to the task so for our funding to slip into reverse at a time when the evidence points to the opposite is a missed opportunity. "We hope the Scottish Government will be open to talking to us about this and that something can be done in the next set of spending decisions taken this summer."Across the sector all 18 of Scotland's higher education institutions were found in the REF exercise to undertake world-class research with the total proportion of research at world-class and internationally excellent levels increasing from 52 per cent the last time this exercise was conducted in 2008 to 77 per cent in 2014. Scottish universities out-performed England when it came to being judged on the impact of their research, whether that impact was economic, social or cultural. 85.8 per cent of Scottish research was judged to be at 4* and 3* - levels which means the research has had "outstanding" or "very considerable" impact compared to the UK average of 83.9 per cent. Examples of the impact of research in Scotland's universities includes:New computer algorithms for the life-saving matching of kidney donors with recipients by the University of Glasgow.Geochemical research at the University of St Andrews has helped to combat the global trade in illicit tobacco and its major consequences for health with a major contribution to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control policies.Dundee University's research on spacecraft technology has led to the SpaceWire standard which is being used in many spacecraft by space organisations around the world. University of Edinburgh's work to develop technologies based on XML (Extensible Markup Language) to enable the online experiences like ebay and BBC online that are so much part of the fabric of our daily lives.The University of the Highlands and Islands has undertaken research which has helped protecting Europe's waters from Eutrophication.Queen Margaret University Edinburgh's strength in speech sciences research has led to the commercial development of technologies and instruments which can diagnose and treat speech disorders.Today's announcement by the Scottish Funding Council only includes information on the Research Excellence Grant (REG) and does not calculate the impact of the loss of the Global Excellence Grant, which has been cut entirely and which had been worth £14 million to universities in 2013/14 and 2014/15. The table below shows the impact of REG reallocations and the loss of the Global Excellence Grant on institutions.Today's announcement is the first of three-years of phased changes to Research Excellence Grant allocations. Further cuts in individual institutions' REG allocations are programmed for 2016/17 and 2017/18. Notes:OU in Scotland treated as a UK institution for the purposes of the REF.http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Economy/EconomicStrategyThe Scottish Funding Council's indicative funding decisions for the Research Excellence Grant for AY 2015-16 to AY 2017-18 can be found here: http://www.sfc.ac.uk/communications/Announcements/2015/SFCAN062015.aspx The SFC document includes no reference to the Global Excellence Fund and so overlooks the impact that the loss of this grant will have on institutions. The table below includes this. Since 2013 universities have received research funding in the form of two grants allocated by formula; the Research Excellence Grant, worth around £240 million and the much smaller Global Excellence Grant, worth £14 million. Allocations for next year see the Research Excellence Grant increase by 0.5 per cent but the Global Excellence Grant cut entirely. This results in a total decrease of £12.9 million in research funding available to universities in 2015/16 relative to 2014/15. The table here shows the difference in funding universities will receive for blue-skies research in 2015/16 compared to 2014/15 as a result of REG reallocations and the loss of Global Excellence Grant.
Categories: Universities

Universities Scotland response to Scottish Government Consultation on a Higher Education Governance Bill

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 10:08
Scotland's university sector is committed to continual improvement of institutional governance, to ensure that is effective, inclusive, transparent and accountable. This has very recently been further modernised, through development and implementation of a new Scottish code of good higher education governance. Structures that reflect principles of good governance are vital in order to protect the autonomy that has made Scotland's higher education a global success story and to ensure the accountability that gives government and stakeholders confidence in our institutions. Read Universities Scotland's full university governance consultation response Scotland's university sector is committed to continual improvement of institutional governance, to ensure that is effective, inclusive, transparent and accountable. This has very recently been further modernised, through development and implementation of a new Scottish code of good higher education governance. Structures that reflect principles of good governance are vital in order to protect the autonomy that has made Scotland's higher education a global success story and to ensure the accountability that gives government and stakeholders confidence in our institutions. Read Universities Scotland's full university governance consultation response
Categories: Universities

Universities Scotland's response to the Scottish Government's Consultation on a Higher Education Governance Bill

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 10:00
Universities Scotland has today, Tuesday 3 February, published its response to the Scottish Government's university governance consultation. Universities Scotland's Convener, Professor Pete Downes, has commented on a number of aspects of the Scottish Government's consultation and these press comments can be read in full here. You can read the response in full here.   Universities Scotland has today, Tuesday 3 February, published its response to the Scottish Government's university governance consultation. You can read the response in full here. Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland, has commented on a number of aspects of the university governance consultation: University autonomy and diversity"Principals believe in inclusive, transparent and robustly accountable models of governance and to that end we have common ground amongst our stakeholders and Government. We are utterly convinced that universities are most successful when they can operate with high levels of autonomy as the evidence from around the world supports this. Therefore some of the proposals are very worrying as they would unquestionably move Scotland towards a less autonomous model of university governance and impose greater uniformity in a one-size-fits-all approach." Progressive not rigid governance"Universities have a progressive model for delivering good governance. The university sector is committed to its own continuous enhancement of governance practice and the new code of good governance of 2013 is a good demonstration of this as it delivered over 300 new actions across the university sector to enhance accountability, transparency and diversity, building on what was already a robust system. Staff and students have a formal role in the strategic decisions taken by all universities, they have a formal role in scrutinising senior management and a formal role in the appointment and appraisal of the two most senior positions in a university. The new reforms should be given a chance to bed-in and fully take effect but this does not mean the end. When the new code was published a clear commitment was given to review it in 2016. We believe that is the time and best way to evaluate whether and what further change might be needed in university governance. That allows for progressive evolution rather than the rigidity that comes from legislation." Proposals that carry the potential to weaken not strengthen governance"Universities receive significant levels of public investment and so expect to be fully accountable for that funding. We expect our governance to be scrutinised by a staff and student population who are encouraged to question and challenge as a core part of how they work and study. This is very healthy for our sector. But this also means we must question the value and evidence base for the consultation's proposals. We are open to exploring the role of the privy council in university governance, provided a new model is depoliticised, as we think it could have the potential to improve transparency and efficiency. However, we are unconvinced of the need for, or benefits to be gained from many of the other proposals which represent a major erosion of university autonomy, something the Government is clear in saying it does not wish to do. A couple of the proposals carry an unintended risk of weakening the strong lines of accountability that already exist between the Chair and the governing body and of undermining a core principal of good governance which is that every member of a governing body surrenders their self-interest upon joining. They are so central to good governance it is vital they are protected. "We recognise that our staff, student and political stakeholders share our interest in upholding the principles of good governance and hope there will be plenty of opportunity to consider the responses to the consultation and discuss the best way forward together. We look forward to a constructive dialogue with Scottish Government." On proposals for a representative role for trade unions on the governing body"University leaders are committed to a close and constructive relationship with their recognised trade unions, who represent just over a quarter of university staff. This dialogue takes place in forums such as joint negotiating committees where the interests of each partner are clear. We believe it would be wrong in principle to create a ‘representative' role for trade unionists on governing bodies: it is fundamental to good governance that the members of governing bodies act only in the interests of the institution. A ‘representative' trade union member of a governing body would be placed into a conflict of interest between their duties as a governor and their mandate from their trade union.  "We also believe it is undemocratic to privilege the interests of the minority of staff who have chosen to join a trade union. Staff are currently free to elect who they choose to governing bodies, including trade unionsists."  On gender balance amongst governing bodies"Equality and diversity is an issue that universities take very seriously and we have been delighted to see the gender balance amongst the position of Chairs shift significantly in the last year with women appointed on merit to fill five out of the last six vacancies. Further measures are being taken to encourage a wider range of applicants and this goes beyond gender to include other protected characteristics. This is a responsibility that everyone on the governing body, including staff and student members, has to take seriously if we are to achieve a gender balance. As governors typically serve for two or three years, with the option of renewal, this will take some time to achieve but the commitment is there."
Categories: Universities

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