University boards must be forced to appoint more women, says NUS

Glasgow University

Scottish universities should appoint more women to their governing bodies or be forced to do so, according to the National Union of Students.

NUS Scotland says the boards are dominated by men and the proportion of women is far too low.

A new voluntary code last year committed universities to improving the boards' equality and diversity.

The body that represents universities says progress is being made and is confident more women will be appointed.

NUS Scotland argues that, if universities cannot meet their own commitments to improving the diversity and gender balance of boards, legislation should be introduced to make this mandatory.

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland women's officer, said: "It's incredibly worrying that, despite committing to strengthening the gender balance in their governing bodies, so many universities are still lagging behind.

'Lead the way'

"This is clear evidence that self-regulation does not seem to be enough to bring about gender equality on the boards that run our universities.

"Women make up over half of the student population - the governance of our institutions should be reflective of that.

"Universities are publicly funded bodies and must lead the way in ensuring that women are represented among those making decisions at the highest level."

Mrs Sandlan added: "Universities need to act, or they should be forced to. We can't wait forever for women to rise to top positions despite the odds being against them.

"The Scottish government should work with whoever they need to ensure that, in the future, women's place on boards is secured in law."

The NUS made a series of Freedom of Information requests to universities.

The responses revealed that:

  • Across Scotland, 31% of lay board members are women
  • At Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Stirling universities, only one, two and two co-opted board members respectively are women

Since the FOI requests were made, Aberdeen has appointed a second woman board member.

The body that represents the collective interest of universities - Universities Scotland - insists universities take the representation of women at board level seriously.

It argues that more women have been appointed to boards over the past year and expects the proportion to rise as vacancies come up.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: "The new code of HE governance, which came into effect in August of last year, reflected universities' commitment to continuous improvement in their governance; a commitment they have to all areas of activity.

"Improving the level of diversity among co-opted members of court was one of the measures in the new code.

"Universities are committed to encouraging greater representation of women at all levels and we are confident this will happen as vacancies arise and there are opportunities for turnover of members."

He added: "Currently, an average of 30% of co-opted members are women and this rises to 40% at some institutions.

Further progress

"We are not complacent about an average of 30% and every institution is ambitious for further progress.

"Most co-opted members serve for a minimum of two years, so there have been few opportunities for change in the first year of the code, but where there have been, the sector has been pro-active.

"Of the three vacancies that have arisen for chair of court, all three have been filled by women."

Mr Sim said staff and students have a role to play in changing the diversity of co-opted members.

"The code requires there to be both a staff and student representative on universities' nominations committees that manage the process of new members," he added.

"All vacancies are published widely outside of the university."

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