Edinburgh University has no immediate plans to introduce gender quotas on its university court, despite recommendations in recent reviews and growing pressure from students, it has transpired.
The news comes after it was revealed that NUS Scotland Women’s Campaign have prioritised campaigning around the Von Prondzynski Report, a review into governance in Scottish Higher Education that suggested 40% of places on governing bodies should be reserved for women. Despite the discussion of quotas being one of the areas of the report to generate most concern amongst Edinburgh University’s Court – the governing body of the University – many of its members failed to respond when contacted for comment.
NUS Scotland’s Women’s Officer Stacey Devine said “Universities should be at the forefront of creating a fairer, more equal society that is representative of Scottish society. Yet, as NUS Scotland research showed earlier this year, almost 80% of governing body members are men, despite women making up a majority of our campus populations. When it comes to governing body chairs, women aren’t just underrepresented, they’re non-existent. We need everyone doing all they can to change that.”
“While we still have a long way to go, the possibilities for change are there. At a national level, NUS Scotland will be working to see genuine progress on fair representation on university courts through legislation. However, in line with our efforts this year to imagine tomorrow, change today, we will also be providing campaigning support to students’ associations in Edinburgh and across Scotland in the coming year who wish to address this imbalance and see the number of women on their governing bodies increase.”
Strathclyde University in Glasgow already reserve 40% of places on their university court for female members, while the University of the Highlands and Islands was recently the subject of an NUS award-nominated campaign by students in support of quotas. However, when contacted University Rector Peter McColl confirmed that Edinburgh have no such plans. McColl said: “Speaking personally, I do support the introduction of quotas for University Courts, but they need to be set in a broader context of making University Courts more representative by including other protected characteristics. At a University like Edinburgh it may also be worth especial consideration of people with experience of being international students.”
Vice-chancellor of the Court Stuart Munro echoed calls for wider representation across the board, pointing out the value of current disabled members of Court. Munro also emphasised the Court’s commitment to ensuring best practice in governance, stating that “appointment is made on merit taking into account the skills that Court needs. We will certainly continue to look for innovative ways to encourage people in underrepresented areas to apply. In terms of good governance, it is the duty of Court to ensure that it has the correct range of skills to fulfil its role in overseeing the running of the University and that must always be our primary concern.”
This issue of merit has divided opinion on quotas in the past, notably in discussion of the ‘Fair Representation’ motion put forward at last year’s NUS Conference where some argued that quotas can result in the selection of a less skilled candidate based solely on gender. However, others emphasised the number of equally skilled women missing out on roles as a result of structural inequality and bias.
EUSA Women’s Convener Sarah Moffat said: “This isn’t about positive discrimination or selecting candidates based purely on their gender, this is about addressing the subconscious biases that many people unfortunately still hold, which prevent women from achieving these top positions in our universities.”
“There is a systematic problem with gender imbalance in our university’s governing bodies, so it would be great to see the university accept the fair representation provisions that were proposed by the Von Prondzynski review and show their commitment to widening access to these key decision-making bodies.”
The wider student body at Edinburgh University have shown themselves to be receptive to feminist policy, with motions against The Sun’s Page 3 and ‘lad banter’ on campus passing last year, as well as a record number of students turning out to vote in favour of EUSA’s affiliation with Abortion Rights.
On the subject of quotas, first year student Emma said: “Since coming to university, I’ve become quite aware that most of the people who teach me and whose work we study aren’t like me – mostly they’re white men. It worries me if this is the case throughout the university, right down to its core governing bodies. I’d really support the introduction of quotas to feel reassured that my interests and experiences are being considered”.
Edinburgh University’s Court currently has 23 members, of which 8 are women.