Scotland's university principals say education bill provision not needed

From Democracy Live: Sir Timothy O'Shea expresses concerns about the Post-16 Education Bill to MSPs

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Scotland's university principals told MSPs that some aspects of the new education bill were not needed.

They believed that there was already enough accountability and governance in higher education.

Principals from a number of Scottish universities were giving evidence on the Post-16 Education Bill.

They included Stirling University's principal, Prof Gerry McCormac, and his Edinburgh University counterpart, Sir Timothy O'Shea.

Evidence was also given by Prof Seona Reid, director of the Glasgow School of Art, and Prof Sir Jim McDonald, principal of the University of Strathclyde.

Prof Reid told the committee that the nature of governance at a small institution would be different to a large institution, but she believed that all institutions supported a system of governance.

However, she added: "To enshrine it in legislation risks the possibility that for future administrations, for example, it could be misused to apply a uniformity of governance model that would be inappropriate to a diverse sector."

Asked by the committee if there was a need for legislation, the academic panel shook their heads.

Prof McCormac said the policy objectives of the bill were "laudable" but he did not feel legislation was "necessarily required".

Strathclyde University's Prof Macdonald told committee members: "There are existing measures and mechanism which allow the universities to be properly overseen, to be held to account, you know about the letter of grant, the financial memorandum, but also more recently the outcome agreements which have been a new introduction led for the government by the Scottish Funding Council which are - some of them - very detailed and will evolve."

The committee also heard from student representatives, including Garry Quigley, president of the University of the West of Scotland Students' Association and Christina Andrews from the University of Stirling Students' Union.

The six key areas of the bill include:

  • college regionalisation, the central element of the bill
  • university governance
  • widening access to higher education
  • review of fundable further and higher education
  • tuition fees
  • and data sharing

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