2. Democracy: university governing bodies must be majority-elected by staff, not have self-selecting cronies

The problems

Most UK universities have a majority on governing bodies that are selected by the incumbents behind closed doors. They set our pay, equality policies, job security, appoint senior managements, and then they appoint each other. Though there are many good individuals, together they have overseen the worst decline in UK universities in modern history. That must change. University governing body members usually have two, three, four other directorships or jobs, they are accountable to nobody but themselves, and often have little understanding of universities except their own undergraduate degree, and quarterly board meetings. University staff understand our institutions because without us they would not exist. We have the world’s leading experts in finance, innovation, arts, and knowledge, and we understand what is good for students and our academic community.

The solutions

If you vote, we will restore democracy in education. Every university and college must have a governing body that is majority-elected by staff. We already see majority-elected bodies in Cambridge and Oxford, since the 1850s. We see some staff-elected members in Scotland under the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016. We see them in London, including at UCL, and at King’s where we led a petition and a strike ballot and negotiated two more staff-elected members pending a full governance review. We are currently seeing another branch-led campaign throughout Wales that UCU should back in full. We must go further, not least because the UK is among the dwindling minority of poorer OECD countries that have no general law for the right of workers to be elected to boardrooms – and at universities we must spread best practice and pave the way. From England, to Wales, to Scotland, to Northern Ireland we must fight for your right to vote at work, because with democracy we will protect fair pay, equality, security, productivity, and innovation.

How we do it

Our strategy will be to combine collective bargaining with lobbying for legislative reform, through:

  • bargaining and action across the sector for majority-elected governing bodies, and backing all campaigns in full, including the current one in Wales,
  • lobbying the Scottish, Welsh and Westminster governments to create democratic governance fit for the 21st century in the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016, the Education Reform Act 1988 section 124E and Schedule 7A, and all royal charters.


More reading on democracy at work: