Evolve or Die: A view from the chair on the changing face of the university council

Following the vote on the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Bill in early 2016, we wanted to share our observations on its potential consequences for both search processes and on the higher education sector more generally.

The Bill comes at a significant time for us as a firm as we have been closely considering the changing face of university governance in general. Our thought piece, reflecting on the make-up of university councils and how its structure, organisation and role might be forced to evolve, can be found here, Chairs thought piece – Evolve or Die.

Turning to the Scottish Bill, (whilst considering that for those in favour, it will improve university decision-making, and for those against, that there exists no major crisis of governance that needs fixing) we are left wary of its impact on the effectiveness of Scottish university governance. Further trepidation stems from the fact that two mainstream political parties firmly opposed the Bill.

Considering the processes set out in the Bill from a search perspective, we wonder whether prospective applicants of an appropriate calibre would be willing to put their heads above the parapet for chair of university court posts. Moreover, if only one candidate is identified for election, will that person be prepared to wait whilst advertising is undertaken with no guarantee of further candidates being identified and accepting a place in the election?

More generally, we wonder what its impact on the reputation and credibility of the higher education sector might be. The concept of elected members to an academic board raises issues, namely, that the size and effectiveness of the board that emerges could be reduced given the composition as set out in the legislation.

These are just a selection of our thoughts on this topic as we believe that there is much to be discussed. We are left to hope that the new legislation will not adversely affect the rich heritage and international reputation of the Scottish higher education system in the medium and long term, particularly in light of the funding pressures universities across the UK are likely to face over the foreseeable future; and we will watch to see whether there will be implications for university governance in the other parts of the UK beyond Scotland.

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