Scottish universities plan to make governing boards gender balanced

By Mathew R Johnstone


Scottish universities announced plans to make their governing bodies gender balanced.

The Committee of Scottish Chairs agreed to make the step towards gender equality, pledging to have equal representation by 2018.

All 18 higher education institutions in Scotland have committed to the plans, including the University of Strathclyde.

At the moment less than a third of the independent members of university boards are women.

The plans would require at least 40% of the boards’ independent members to be women and 40% to be men, with the remaining 20% open to all candidates.

Gender balancing would not extend to the members of the boards who are currently elected by staff and students.

Roza Salih, Vice President for Diversity and Advocacy at the University of Strathclyde Students’ Association, said these plans were a “positive step” but did not go far enough to address the gender imbalance.

She said: “across the UK only 22% of professors in universities are women and women on full time academic contracts are paid on average 11% less than men – showing universities are still very much a ‘boys club’.”

She also said there will only be one woman on the Union Executive team next year, and highlighted the need for more than gender diversity, saying: “there is an intersectionality issue too – I want to see more BME women, more LGBT+ women and more disabled women leading our universities and our student unions.”

The University of Strathclyde currently already has a gender balanced governing body. Half of the University Court are elected independently, and of these 12 members six are women and six are men.

This court is “responsible for the management and administration of all the revenue and property of the University”.

The new regulations would not ensure total gender balance for Strathclyde. Only half of the committee’s member are independently elected, and these regulations do not affect staff and student board members from within the university itself.

Universities Scotland said they hoped to be able to meet the 40% requirement through “a variety of means including open and transparent advertisement of vacancies, targeted advertisements through Women on Boards and in specialist press and relaxation of the requirement for previous board experience.”

The Scottish Government had already set out plans to make gender balanced university boards law, as reported by the Strathclyde Telegraph in November.  The proposals were part of their plan to make the regulation of higher education more accountable, and had also aimed to reserve at least 40% of the committee for women.

Professor Pete Downes, Convenor of Universities Scotland and principle at the University of Dundee, said: “This is a very positive step. The 40:40:20 approach to gender balance gives institutions some flexibility to ensure we continue to appoint the strongest candidates to what are strategically important roles.”

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