Posted tagged ‘Conferederation of British Industry’

The CBI, Scotland’s independence referendum and the universities

April 24, 2014

The following article was first published today by the Press and Journal, Aberdeen.

Universities play a key role in the community. They are engines of invention and innovation, and they are also spaces for debate in which all voices are recognized and encouraged. It is not always an easy role to play, and it gets most complex when issues being debated are controversial or in any way difficult. In a few months Scotland will be invited to take one of the most important decisions in several generations: whether it wishes to be an independent country. As one would expect, there are strong opinions on this question, and there is a robust campaign taking place leading up to the referendum itself.

Last weekend the campaign gained a new active participant: the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) registered with the Electoral Commission as a supporter of the No campaign. In doing so it created issues for at least some of its members: those who might favour a Yes vote, and those whose duty it is to remain neutral; this latter group includes the universities.

I have no doubt that this CBI decision was a wrong decision. It had previously expressed concerns about the impact of independence (as was perfectly appropriate), but declaring itself as partisan on the issue was something different, creating real problems for organisations that, also perfectly appropriately, hold a different view. We were not consulted before the decision was taken, but if I had been, I would have offered a robust opinion in the matter.

Some universities reacted to the CBI move by resigning immediately from membership. RGU took a different approach. While I immediately said that we disapproved of the CBI decision, I wanted us to reflect on how we could best deal with the problem that had arisen and that was not of our making. We are an industry-focused university, with many links and partnerships in the business community. Equally, we need to be sure that we are both remaining neutral in this important national debate, but that we also provide a safe space for both sides in the debate.

These are the principles that we will apply as we move to decide how we should respond to the CBI move. That is the duty we owe to our students, our friends and our partners in the wider community.

Subsequent to the publication of this article by the Press and Journal, and after extensive consultation, I decided that RGU will suspend its membership of the CBI, and will review the position after the Referendum.

Closing the ‘worst’ universities?

June 10, 2010

I guess that if we think we have problems in Ireland, it may be interesting to look at what is happening across the Irish Sea. According to yesterday’s Daily Telegraph newspaper, the Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry, Richard Lambert, has suggested that in considering the position of the university sector the British government should perhaps take ‘the politically explosive but probably economically sensible decision to close or merge the worst run institutions.’

This suggestion appears to be motivated by his desire to protect the standing of what he calls British ‘premier league’ institutions, who should not be forced to ‘pay the price for the incompetence of the worst’.

We do not know which Mr Lambert thinks are Britain’s ‘worst run’ universities, nor do we know how many he has in his sights. But it appears that what many would have regarded as unthinkable – the prospect of university closures – is now being mentioned openly in the UK. In Ireland the HEA has indicated that it regards such closures as inconceivable, but nevertheless the previous institutional stability of higher education has been rattled here as well with all the merger and rationalisation talk. In the end, it is hard to see how destabilising the sector helps anyone. The sooner the current period of uncertainty, with important position papers outstanding, comes to an end, the better.