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Unions warn Education Bill changes could eliminate student and staff representation

Unions have warned against a last minute amendment to the Education Bill which could eliminate student and staff representation at universities and colleges.

The National Union of Students (NUS), the University and College Union (UCU) and UNISON have expressed concern about a proposed removal of the legal requirement to have staff and student representatives on further education governing boards.

At present, Further Education ruling bodies at must have at least two employee and two student governors.

However, an amendment to the government’s Education Bill tabled on Monday could see this rule axed in favour of a voluntary code. The Bill is in its final stages and is currently being debated in the House of Lords.

The unions say that, if the change is approved, university and college boards would be less accountable and would not represent the interests of students and lecturers.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt warned that the amendment would leave boards open to abuse.

She said: “These changes, if voted through, will increase the risk of mismanagement and corruption at colleges and make institutions less answerable to the public.

“Staff and students play a vital role in ensuring transparency and accountability and in highlighting bad governance when it arises.”

NUS vice president Toni Pearce called for the government to clarify whether a legal requirement for student and staff representatives would continue.

“This change runs entirely counter to the government’s expressed support for the existence of student and staff governors,” said Pearce.

“The suggestion that this is merely a technical change simply does not hold and it is clear that there is no legal reason why this cannot continue to be a mandatory requirement.”

Jon Richards, general secretary of Unison’s Education and Children’s Services, called for the government to withdraw the amendment and also questioned its timing, two days before the Education Bill entered its report stage.

Richards said: “I am shocked at the way the government has tried to slip this amendment under the radar. The motive for doing this seems extremely suspect. It looks like an undemocratic attempt to remove college democracy.”

The unions also feel that as universities prepare to face changes to their funding systems they might miss out on vital input from students and lecturers.

Hunt added: “With the sector facing huge funding challenges it seems perverse to be pushing these changes through.”

In addition, the unions criticised the suggestion of a voluntary code for governing bodies in place of the legal requirement.

Pearce explained: “It is only too clear that a merely voluntary agreement is not good enough as it would allow student and staff representation to be removed on a whim.”

Lewis Dyson

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