College governance: Lack of women chairs 'an issue'

The Scottish government has said it is working to improve the appointments process to increase diversity

The number of women chairs in Scottish colleges has not increased in seven years, despite the government pledging it would boost diversity

There has been no improvement in the number of women leading Scottish college boards since the restructuring of the sector in 2012, Tes analysis has shown.

This is despite many boards now having more women than men. The research has led to the Scottish government acknowledging the lack of diversity among college chairs is “an issue”.

Currently, only two of the sector’s 13 regional college chairs are women – the same number as was first appointed by then education secretary Michael Russell when college regions were introduced in 2012. Orkney College UHI, one of the University of the Highlands and Islands colleges, also has a female chair. That means of around 30 regional and assigned college chairs, only three are female.


Read more: Scottish colleges urged to strive for equality

Background: ‘College boards have to represent the population’

Also: IoD executive director appointed Fife College chair


Diversity

New legislation around college governance brought in as part of the reform process of the sector means regional college chairs are appointed by Scottish ministers, and successive FE ministers have stressed the need for diversity at chair level.

When she took up her post as HE, FE and science minister in January 2018, Shirley-Anne Somerville told Tes college boards had to represent the population of the region they are part of. But of the four regional chairs appointed in the last two years, Janie McCusker, chair of the Glasgow Colleges’ Regional Board, was the only female appointment.

Most recently, in August of this year, Richard Lochhead, announced the appointment of Ronnie Smith as chair of New College Lanarkshire – replacing Linda McTavish. Before that, in March, former director of IoD Scotland David Watt was appointed chair of Fife college. Earlier this month, it was revealed Sir Ian Diamond, who took up his post last year, would be stepping down next month as chair of Edinburgh College. Last year, eight college chairs were reappointed – of them, six were men.

Female majority

The lack of women at chair level is not mirrored in college boards, however. A survey of assigned and regional colleges by Tes, to which 20 of the 30 Scottish colleges responded, showed that in 11 of them, women made up at least 50 per cent of the board.

All regional college boards have to feature two staff and two student members, as well as a chair appointed by the minister, and the college principal. This means ensuring diverse boards is not the responsibility of the sector alone – with ministers making final appointment decisions. It has also been claimed that a lack of women applying particularly for chair positions on college boards has made appointing them even more of a challenge.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: “The Scottish government is committed to making public appointments more diverse and achieving gender-balanced public boards by 2022 but we agree that the current lack of balance amongst chairs is an issue.

"Further education minister Richard Lochhead has identified this as a priority and we are working to improve the appointments process to ensure that we attract a strong and diverse field of candidates.”

He added the Scottish Funding Council was working with the Colleges Development Network and college regions to “tackle gender imbalance and develop innovative approaches to chair and board member recruitment which support diversity”.

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