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Scots universities warned on gender equality

Mike Russel also called on universities to do more for gender equality, stating that too many courses are dominated by either men or women. Picture: TSPL

Mike Russel also called on universities to do more for gender equality, stating that too many courses are dominated by either men or women. Picture: TSPL

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

UNIVERSITIES and colleges could face funding “penalties” if they fail to get more women on to their governing boards and studying traditionally male-dominated courses.

Education secretary Michael Russell has warned this must be an “immediate priority” for institutions where women are under-represented in both key management and study roles.

The Scottish Government says it expects universities and colleges to comply with the demand – and the funding axe could be wielded in “extreme” cases.

The lack of young women taking up engineering apprenticeships, as well as studying life sciences, renewables and IT, was highlighted as a key concern in a recent report by North Sea oil magnate Sir Ian Wood into Scotland’s future workforce. There are also concerns that not enough boys are going into courses such as childcare.

Mr Russell made the plea for a shift in strategy to even out these imbalances in a letter to Professor Alice Brown, the chair of the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which funds colleges and universities.

“Having a wider range of experience and expertise on boards will help work towards a greater equality in courses that still tend to be dominated by one gender,” he said.

“Institutions will look at new ways to further improve widening access, retention levels and linking to employers.”

The Wood report, Mr Russell said, set out the blueprint “for an education system that is better integrated across schools, colleges and workplaces, and which offers choices that allow young people fully to realise their potential, contributing to Scotland’s economic growth”.

He is now pressing the SFC to encourage action from both colleges and universities that “addresses the under-representation of women on the governing bodies of colleges and universities at senior levels and gender balance among student intakes for some key subjects”.

These are now among the key objectives for universities and colleges in “outcome agreements” between each institution and the SFC, which distributes cash to each institution.

A Scottish Government spokesman said last night: “Theoretically, penalties would be possible should boards not meet our expectations – but only in very extreme circumstances.”

But colleges and universities have so far been “positive” about getting more women on to their boards and ministers expect this to remain the case going forward.

“No penalties are planned but we are clear that universities and colleges must strive to achieve a more balanced representation on their boards and we will track progress over time,” the spokesman added.

In his letter of guidance for 2015-16, the education secretary said he expected universities to get just over £1.06 billion for the year, while colleges should receive just over £525 million.

A further £36m is likely to be set aside in the budget for capital funding, for example to pay for new buildings or refurbishments.

One of the most high-profile women in a senior role in the further education sector in Scotland is Professor Louise Richardson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of St Andrews University. She is a former Executive Dean at Harvard University in the US.

She was instrumental in encouraging a historic club at St Andrews, The Kate Kennedy Club, to scrap its men-only stance. Following her installation as the first female principal of the university in 2009, Dr Richardson told students she could not endorse a club “from which so many of our students are excluded at birth”.

She has also made clear her unease at the men-only membership policy of the town’s Royal and Ancient Golf Club.

Former first minister Henry McLeish, chair of Colleges Scotland, said: “The funding levels are in line with what we expected, but it’s still a tough settlement at a time when the sector is facing a number of challenges.

“The sector is structurally stronger than before, but meeting the needs of students, government and the economy will challenge the sector to work closely together and identify

priorities.”

Mr Russell said while he was increasing funding, he expected the sector to continue to make efficiency savings.

He told Prof Brown: “I expect you to continue efforts to find efficiencies – specifically, and as indicated in last year’s letter for 2014-15, it remains essential that the SFC works with the university sector to ensure a minimum 1 per cent real terms efficiency saving in 2015-16.”

With the independence referendum approaching, Mr Russell said he expected the SFC to play a “key role” in securing continuity of funding for research if there is a Yes vote in September.

“Independence would also provide new opportunities to extend Scotland’s global reach and I would wish SFC to be proactive in establishing new relationships within these islands and overseas, seeking to further enhance the international excellence and reputation of our higher education and further education systems,” he said.

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