Supporting Higher Education
Scottish Higher Education Review
Second Consultation Paper - Shaping our Future
The UNISON Scotland Response
We also support the use of new, innovative
methods of teaching courses, such as e-learning, part-time,
distance learning, etc.
UNISON Scotland is a trade union, representing the
majority of support staff working in Scottish Universities. Our
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UNISON Scotland agrees that the key challenges in
teaching and learning for Higher Education institutions over the
next decade will be developing new student markets and providing
higher education on more flexible terms. In fact we understand that
this is already being done across the sector.
We support the exploration and introduction of different
methods of teaching courses, e.g. e-learning, distance courses,
outreach courses. Again, we understand that there are examples of
each of these in use across Scotland.
We would, however, point out that the use of different
teaching methods has ramifications for support staff, and we need
to ensure that these effects are recognised and taken into account
when assessing staffing requirements. For example, e-learning requires
technical support on a 24 hour basis, as students expect instant
responses and assistance. In addition, some outreach courses are
carried out in conjunction with Further Education Colleges, whose
staff would be on different remuneration and terms and conditions
We agree with and support the need to encourage more
students from the lower socio-economic groups to enter higher education
but would want the Scottish Executive to appreciate that such a
policy requires additional resources to provide the necessary element
of additional support.
As stated above, we agree with the endeavour to attract
students from new markets, including those from lower socio-economic
backgrounds and with the use of innovative methods of teaching.
However, we need to ensure that these changes are properly resourced
and that adequate training is given to all staff.
UNISON supports the Scottish Executive's aim to improve
research facilities and expertise to assist the Scottish economy
to expand and prosper and be at the leading edge. We believe the
proposals to identify and address gaps in research with a view to
developing a new business base are the correct way to execute these
aims. Cross-sector and inter institutional working is already being
carried out on a limited basis and we agree this is one way forward.
However, concerns arise about the accountability of support staff,
who cannot transfer institutions as easily as lecturing staff, and
are employed specifically by one employer. If this were to be altered,
employment rights would have to remain paramount for those staff
affected. If, for example, some form of new "hybrid" employer
were created, there would be ramifications for the staff involved
and these would need to be thought through and addressed properly.
We are concerned that the commercialisation of research
could create funding difficulties in the sector and want assurances
that this would not put undue stress on the staff involved in finance
development schemes. UNISON believes that higher education institutions
should be adequately funded for the functions they carry out and
that the quest for improvement of research and knowledge transfer
is not finance driven but is for the enhancement of the Scottish
economy as a whole.
Governance and Management
UNISON Scotland supports the Scottish Executive in
its interest in improving outcomes and performance and in its desire
for greater involvement in the use of resources both in the short
and longer term.
UNISON also wants greater involvement of staff in
the governance and management of higher education institutions,
both by the inclusion of support staff on governing bodies and by
real involvement with partnership working as one of the key stakeholders
in the operation of each higher education institution.
We believe that the performance of the sector is held
back by the lack of modern governance procedures and the maintenance
of outdated practices.
A system of privilege, traditionalism, elitism and
paternalism remains, particularly in some ‘old' universities and
this needs to be replaced by a modernised ‘Human Resource' structure
where all stakeholders work together as part of the whole higher
education team to deliver modern education to the young people of
Scotland and the wider environs.
We believe staff governance procedures, similar to
those operating in the NHS in Scotland would improve the working
of higher education institutions and this would involve the relevant
trade unions in carrying through the procedures. Partnership forums
would be important for this.
UNISON believes that there is a need for training
and staff development but wants this to apply to all staff, not
just those directly involved in teaching. Support staff play an
important role in the organisation and operation of higher education
institutions and are not given due recognition by the sector. The
consultation document to which we are responding did not refer to
support staff in any way in its assessment of the sector and we
feel this is a significant omission. As outlined in the introduction
to our response, support staff carry out a wide range of tasks,
all of which are crucial to the smooth operation of each institution
and we believe most strongly that this must be recognised and support
staff given due attention when such matters are being considered.
We believe that closer involvement of the SHEFC would
be beneficial in ensuring better governance and management in the
sector as they could issue guidance and seek consistency across
institutions in an attempt to modernise the system of governance.
UNISON supports the Executive's desire to include
estates in investment plans which will provide adequate and quality
premises with good health and safety practices as well as proper
facilities for staff and students with disabilities.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835