The Scottish National Party is threatening to undermine the independence of Scotland’s universities, according to a group led by the University of St Andrews. The universities claim their academic independence it under threat because the SNP wants to “bring politicians very close to the governance of institutions”.
The dispute centres around plans by the Scottish government to reform the what governing bodies of universities are appointed. St Andrews also claims the SNP wants to create a new definition of academic freedom.
Politicians in Holyrood are consulting on plans to open up the group that select members of university governing councils to a “wider electorate”. But St Andrews warned this might create political battles between “factions, constituencies or interest groups”.
According to the Daily Telegraph the university said: “Governmental legislation on university procedures and values risks making universities into a ‘political football’ by successive governments, which becomes itself a serious threat to responsible autonomy and academic freedom.”
It went on to warn that talented candidates might refuse to run for councils because they would be faced by highly political campaigns against them. The institution also rejected plans to have a quota of Trade Unionists on the governing bodies, and was unhappy about plans to abolish its Principal in favour of a Chief Executive.
The SNP also want to replace the role of the Privy Council – which meets at the Supreme Court Building in London – with a new Scottish Executive. For hundreds of years the Privy Council has been the final arbiter when students are unhappy with their final grade, although the number of graduates who go all the way through the process is very small.
Changes to the university systems are likely to be seen as another example of the SNP moving towards independence by stealth. They remain committed to independence despite losing the referendum, and also concede there will not be another “for a generation”.