Democracy in the University – Encourage & Support

Back to all Motions

2024 National Higher Education Conference
1 January 2024

UNISON HE Conference Notes:

a) That many universities have, or have had, elected staff positions on the “council” or board of governors / trustees. In Scotland, elected trade union reps are included in courts.

b) That this small glimmer of worker democracy is relatively unusual compared to other sectors in the UK economy.

c) That there is a general trend towards employers phasing out or reducing staff positions on governing bodies, and/or replacing elected staff positions with “appointed” positions.

d) That UNISON Reps elected to university governing bodies of universities have played important roles in ensuring external governors are aware of the realities of the university, not just senior management spin, and in balancing debates to ensure staff welfare, employment law and equitable treatment are prioritised.

e) That UNISON Reps who are elected as staff governors often face attempts at exclusion or “second tier” status and do not currently have access to independent training, advice and support in these roles through their trade union.

UNISON HE Conference Believes:

1) That democracy is good.

2) That workers are often expected to yield unquestioningly to the demands of a boss – a form of tyranny that we wouldn’t accept outside of work.

3) That a central role of unions is to enable workers to democratise the workplace.

4) That a university is its staff and students, not shiny buildings.

5) That all universities should have elected staff governors, including for support staff.

6) That staff governors should be elected by their peers, and not appointed by senior managers or other governors, if they are to be free to carry out their role

7) That without support, staff governors can find themselves isolated from their colleagues, ineffective, unsure of their rights, controlled or manipulated by senior managers or governors and/or unable to act to their best of their ability to truly benefit the university, i.e. its staff and students.

8) That the training and guidance provided to university staff governors is often from employers or other organisations with an interest or set of positions in favour of upholding existing power structures within universities.

9) That UNISON branches should encourage and support Reps to stand for election to university employer governing bodies.

10) That UNISON branches should support Reps elected to university employer governing bodies.

11) That UNISON branches should put in place structures to ensure UNISON Reps in university governance positions understand the collective view of other workers, and are able to feedback to staff on important developments within the employer and the positions they have taken as governors in debates and votes.

UNISON HE Conference resolves:

• To mandate the SGE to oversee and commission production of guidance and training for UNISON branches on:

a) university governance;

b) best practice in the sector;

c) bargaining for more democratic governance structures;

d) ways for workers and their unions to most effectively engage and participate with governance structures to ensure worker interests are prioritised;

e) supporting UNISON Reps in standing for governor election;

f) the rights and protections of staff governors;

g) structures to help UNISON Reps in staff governor roles understand the views of and feedback information to the staff body;

h) relevant corporate and charity law, regulation through OfS and guidance and best practice from CUC and other organisations.