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Supporting Higher Education

Scottish Higher Education Review
Second Consultation Paper -
Shaping our Future

The UNISON Scotland Response

Executive Summary

  • UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Higher Education Review, Second Consultation Paper, and ‘Shaping our Future'.

  • UNISON represents the majority of support staff employed in the sector and would wish to see them given due recognition for the role they play.

  • We support the aims of increasing student numbers by looking at new markets, particularly those from a lower socio-economic background and overseas.

  • We also support the use of new, innovative methods of teaching courses, such as e-learning, part-time, distance learning, etc.

  • However, we believe there are ramifications for support staff and these need to be addressed.

  • We support the drive for improvement in the research facilities currently available and feel the methods proposed are acceptable.

  • However, we believe higher education institutions should be adequately resourced and the aim of increased research should not be cost driven.

  • UNISON welcomes the review of governance and management in the sector which we hope will do away with outdated practices and introduce a modern structure which can meet the needs of all stakeholders working together in the higher education team.

  • We welcome closer co-operation with the SHEFC which we believe can bring about the required modernisation of the sector and address the outcomes and performance issues as well as ensuring appropriate use of resources.

  • We are happy for estates management to be included in investment plans which we believe would provide more modern premises, with adequate access and appropriate health and safety measures.


UNISON Scotland is a trade union, representing the majority of support staff working in Scottish Universities. Our members include:

  • Cleaners
  • Security Officers
  • Web Designers
  • Painters
  • Printers
  • Plumbers
  • Administrators
  • Drivers
  • Planning managers
  • Car Park attendants
  • Marketing managers
  • Technology transfer staff
  • IT Support
  • Quality Officers
  • Auditors
  • Finance personnel
  • Personnel staff


  • Accountants
  • Clerks
  • Janitors
  • Canteen Staff
  • Technicians
  • Graphic Designers
  • Joiners
  • Program Managers
  • Secretarial/PA
  • School managers
  • Student counsellors
  • Handypersons
  • Receptionists
  • PR Staff
  • School Liaison Officers
  • Admissions staff
  • Librarians & Library Assistants



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.

Research/Knowledge Transfer

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
UNISON Scotland
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX

Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835

e-mail matt.smith@unison.co.uk

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