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Is institutional autonomy under threat?

This article was previously published on the Leadership Foundation website.

Institutional autonomy, self-government, and freedom of speech and expression are often considered to be key distinguishing features of Higher Education Institutions (HEI) allowing them to be free from political interference.

In an open letter to the editor of The Herald newspaper, the 18 chairs of the governing bodies of the Scottish HEIs believe institutional autonomy is under threat in Scotland. Concern centres on the Higher Education (Scotland) Bill making its way through the Scottish Parliament.

The Bill advocates that in future chairs of governing bodies should be appointed by staff and students through public election. The chairs argue that such a change would not only be adversarial, but would undermine progress towards achieving greater equality and diversity. The chairs believe elections would discourage rather than encourage candidates. They cite the abandoned attempt to use elections to Health Boards in Scotland as evidence, and suggest none of the current chairs would have stood if the position had been elected. 

By contrast, the University and College Union (UCU) argue the proposed change would make universities 'more open and transparent'.

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