Colleges must be accountable to communities which they serve. Democratic structures create public bodies which are open and transparent in their dealings with the public. Even private sector organisations are required to have a level of corporate governance and openness. Colleges are public bodies and should follow the same principles as other public sector bodies.
UNISON has consistently raised concerns about the way colleges are governed and managed. While we argued against many of the changes made in further education recently, we did support efforts to improve management and accountability in the sector. One example is transparency. Colleges have been dogged in recent years over the issue of principals’ remuneration and redundancy payments. There have been excessive payments redolent of private corporations, resulting in negative press coverage which damages the sector as a whole.
The code should include a presumption of openness and accessibility for meetings, decision-making and accessibility of minutes and other board papers. And procedures for the rare occasions when decisions/meetings and minutes should not be open to the public.
UNISON was positive about setting up new boards. We were disappointed that, unlike in higher education, the legislation did not reserve places on the boards for union reps. We therefore welcome the opportunity provided by this cod. This will ensure that trade union representatives can play a positive role in improving college governance. Academic freedom is an important principle that must be protected. That is not the same as highly paid senior managers being unaccountable to the government, students or the wider community. They must be accountable for the decisions that they make or how their institutions meet the outcomes set for them in return for substantial amounts of public money.
UNISON is therefore keen to see a speedy introduction of a new code.