The Higher Education Governance Bill, which caused controversy earlier this year over allegations that it would remove the role of the Rector at Scotland’s ancient universities, has passed the Scottish parliament with the Rector’s position intact.
Following amendments made earlier this year, the legal status of the Rector will be unaffected.
Following this development, Rector of the University of St Andrews Catherine Stihler MEP thanked students, who launched a “Save Our Rector” petition, which garnered nearly 4,000 signatures.
The petition gained national coverage in the days after it was launched.
In a letter to The Saint, Ms Stihler said, “Thank you to all the students, past and present, who signed the petition to ‘Save our Rector’.
“Yesterday the Higher Education Governance Bill passed through the Scottish Parliament with the role of Rector remaining unchanged. When the first proposals came out last year there was real concerns that the legal role of Rector to chair University Court would end.
“Today the ancient role remains intact thanks to you. It remains my privilege to serve you on University Court and I thank you for your continuing support in the role.”
Education Secretary Angela Constance said: “This is an important day for the future of Scotland’s world class universities and their students.
“The passing of the Higher Education Governance Bill will ensure greater openness and transparency in the governance of these important and influential institutions.
“Every voice on campus will be heard as part of elections for chairs, or senior lay members, with staff, students and union representatives involved in the whole recruitment and election process. The historic role of rectors in those universities that have them will also continue.
“We have listened closely to stakeholders and interested parties over the course of the bill’s passage and made a number of amendments, both to clarify the bill, and to make sure it has maximum impact in improving governance practice.”
Pat Mathewson, the President of the Students’ Association, who wrote and launched the petition, speaking to The Saint, said, “Our petition saw an outpouring of support from students, staff, and alumni- generations of St Andreans spread across the four corners of the globe.
“It was by a significant margin the most engaging and effective endeavour in national representation in recent years, and demonstrates the difference we can make when we speak with one voice.”
The Rector is the third highest ranking member in University governance, following the Chancellor and Principal. Elected by all matriculated students, the Rector chairs meetings of the University Court, the University’s supreme governing body, and exist to represent the interests of the student body in the major decisions affect them.
To become Rector, a candidate must be nominated by at least 20 matriculated students and then be elected by the wider student body.
The controversy arose over the bill’s proposals to make the chairs of the University Court at all Scottish universities elected. However, instead of simply being nominated by a group of students, candidates would also have to be approved by a panel of University officials.
The bill was unclear over whether this would also apply to the role of Rector, failing to mention the position at all. Many expressed concern that Rectorial candidates would either have to be approved by the University or that the Rector would no longer be able to chair the University court.
The petition stated, “One thing is certain. This signals the end of the rectorship as we know it.
“It is odd to invoke the autonomy of our university while committing clear ministerial interference, but stranger still to invoke democracy while destroying the democratic process.
“Further still, should the rector be sidelined on the University court, it will impact their capacity to effect change in other areas of the University. Diminishing their stature will only diminish their ability to serve students.”
Another aspect of the bill which proved a cause of concern among students was the proposal to modify and regulate the make-up of the University Court, which may have limited the number of students who sit on the Court. In St Andrews currently three students sit on the body; the President and Director of Representation for the Students’ Association and the Rector’s Assessor.
This aspect of the bill was also removed from the final wording of the bill.