Section 1: Executive Summary
1.1 The effective governance of Scotland's colleges is fundamental in supporting them to improve the life chances of their students and the performances of businesses. The Good College Governance Task Group undertook a broad review of college governance and reported in 2016.
1.2 The Scottish Government published a consultation paper on Good College Governance on 18 April 2017 to take forward commitments given in the Task Group report to consult on issues arising from their consideration. In particular, views were sought on issues concerning better arrangements to improve board member recruitment, and a wider range of sanctions.
1.3 The consultation closed on 17 May 2017. 39 responses were received, 28 from organisations, and 11 from individuals. The largest category of organisational response was from colleges, with 10 colleges submitting a response. A summary of views follows.
Views on better arrangements to improve board member recruitment
1.4 28 (90%) of the 31 respondents who provided a view agreed that Scottish Ministers should have powers to determine a rate of remuneration for the chairs of assigned, incorporated colleges. The main reason given in support was that this provides parity and consistency across the sector.
1.5 Of the 30 respondents who provided a view, 17 (57%) did not agree that legislation should require two trade union nominees, for teaching and non-teaching staff respectively, to be members of a board of an incorporated college and regional board. The most common argument against such legislation was that this would create conflicts of interest due to trade unions existing primarily to represent their members' interests rather than the college interests. The main contrasting view was that trade unions had much to offer in terms of strengthening decision-making and ensuring transparency on boards.
1.6 10 (62%) of the 16 respondents who provided a view considered that should the proposal for trade union nominees on incorporated college boards proceed, then the nominees should be in addition to elected staff members, without any change to student member numbers.
1.7 32 respondents provided a view on whether provision should be made for highly regarded candidates, for which there is no immediate position, to be appointed without further open recruitment. 27 (84%) agreed with the proposal. The benefit most commonly identified was that this would avoid a further recruitment process, thereby saving time and money for both recruiters and candidates. The proposal was also viewed as having the potential to widen access to under-represented groups on boards.
1.8 21 (72%) of the 29 respondents who provided a view agreed that provision should be made in relation to a proven ability to work well as a team. However, a concern amongst many was that this criterion should not stifle independent thinking, by resulting only in the recruitment of "group thinkers".
1.9 Of the 31 respondents who addressed the issue, 24 (77%) considered that appointment bodies should advertise all board vacancies on the College Development Network. The key benefits of this were identified as ensuring transparency and encouraging applicants from the college sector. Several respondents, however, emphasised their view that this should not preclude advertising in other places too.
Views on more sanctions being considered so that a wider range of measures is available, if necessary
1.10 21 (75%) of the 28 respondents who provided a view considered that Ministers should have powers to suspend any or all board members, except the principal, where they consider this appropriate in order to carry out further consideration as to whether a removal order is warranted. However, many of those supporting the proposal did so on the proviso that the powers apply only in exceptional circumstances, and that very clear criteria set out when the powers should be used.
1.11 Of the 29 respondents who commented, 21 (72%) considered that Ministers should have power, when making a removal order, to include someone who has left the board but was a member during the period during which board failure was found, with the effect that the person is disqualified from any other boards. A common view was that individuals should not be able to abdicate their responsibilities by resigning ahead of the outcome of considerations, and should continue to be held accountable along with the remaining members of the board. One prominent concern was that the proposal does not allow for valid reasons for a person to resign from the board, for example, disagreement over the board's decisions.
1.12 27 respondents provided a view on whether Ministers should have powers to direct incorporated colleges and regional boards. Of these, 18 (67%) were in support; 8 (30%) considered that Ministers should have neither of these powers; and one individual supported Ministers having such powers in relation to regional boards only. Most (18 of the 23 respondents providing a view) considered that if Ministers were to have such powers, they should be limited to circumstances where they consider a board is not governing appropriately. 16 (84%) of the 19 respondents who gave a response considered that if Ministers had such powers, these should be in addition to the current power of direction that vests with regional strategic boards.
1.13 Of the 27 respondents who provided a view, 21 (78%) agreed that assigned colleges should be required by legislation to co-operate with a Scottish Funding Council (SFC) review under section 7C(7) of the Further and Higher Education (Scotland) Act 2005 (the 2005 Act). A few of the college boards expressed concern that colleges should not have two "masters", namely the SFC and regional strategic boards.
1.14 23 (79%) of the 29 respondents who addressed the issue agreed that the SFC should have powers to attend and address meetings if it has concerns about an assigned college's ability to meet the criteria set out in section 7(2) of the 2005 Act. This was viewed generally as reasonable and to be expected, with benefits of transparency and openness. The most common view in opposition was that attendance at, and addressing meetings where there are concerns over assigned colleges, should be a responsibility of the regional strategic boards and not the SFC.
1.15 Views were divided on whether the existing powers of the SFC and regional strategic bodies to attend and address meetings of a governing body should be extended to include relevant committee meetings. 17 (52%) of the 33 respondents who provided a view agreed. However, key arguments in opposition were that any matter warranting the intervention of the funding body should be dealt with at full board level; and committees have operational functions, whereas boards have powers over strategy, and this risked the SFC straying into operational matters.
1.16 Of the 33 respondents who provided a view, 31 (94%) considered that the powers of the Auditor General for Scotland (AGS) to conduct economy, efficiency and effectiveness examinations should be extended to include all relevant non-incorporated colleges. Common views were that AGS should oversee how public funds are used; and all colleges should be treated the same, with the AGS having the same powers over all.
1.17 23 (82%) of the 28 respondents who addressed the issue considered that legislation should make clear that the power of a person or body to appoint college board members includes a power to suspend any board member that they have appointed. This was viewed as consistent with other public sector appointments made under Scottish legislation.
Views on the equality impact of the matters covered in the consultation paper
1.18 An overarching message was that there is room for improvement in terms of addressing equalities issues in relation to the matters covered in the consultation paper, and that frameworks should be put in place to ensure sustained effort to promote diversity and equality in appointments.
1.19 Suggestions for future promotion of equalities included: regular review of processes and procedures to assess their inclusiveness; mainstreaming equalities duties into everyday practices; perceiving equalities issues to be integral and not an "add on"; focusing on diversity planning; and underpinning current legal requirements of colleges with equality impact assessments.
Email: College Policy Team ScotGov_Colleges_Mailbox@gov.scot