New code of governance set to make Scottish universities the most progressive in Europe

Universities Scotland welcomes the draft publication of a new code of good governance for Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions today [16 April], describing it as a progressive code which would set Scotland’s universities at the leading edge of accountable governance amongst all of Europe.

Key measures within the new draft code include:

  • New measures to provide greater transparency in decisions relating to the remuneration of the Principal.
  • New measures for greater staff and student involvement in the formal appraisal of the Principal.
  • A new requirement to include goals for greater diversity of the governing body membership and regular monitoring of progress towards such goals.
  • The creation of a new role in university governance of Vice Chair with particular responsibility for assessing the Chair’s performance.
  • A requirement for the constitution of a nominations committee for the appointment of lay members of the governing body and selection of the Chair to ensure staff and student engagement.
  • A new requirement that vacancies for independent or lay members of university governing bodies are advertised externally. The recruitment process must address issues of equality and diversity and should involve a skills register to assist in identifying the skills needs of the institution.
  • Clear responsibilities for the Chair to protect discussions at the governing body from dominance by senior management.
  • Affirmation of the importance of university autonomy
  • Renewed commitment to the importance of academic freedom

Taken collectively, the measures proposed in the new code represent a significant step forward in university transparency, inclusion and accountability to stakeholders, building on what is already recognised as a solid basis of university governance.

The draft code is published by Lord Smith of Kelvin, Chair of a short-life Steering Group convened to lead the development of the code. The code remains a draft at this stage as it enters a final consultation phase lasting eight weeks. Following stakeholder consultation the code is expected to be finalised and implemented in time for the new academic year which formally starts 1 August 2013. Once implemented Scotland’s universities will be expected to adhere to the code as a condition of grant from the Scottish Funding Council on a “comply or explain” basis.

A new code of university governance for Scottish institutions was first proposed in the 2012 von Prondzynski review of HE governance, authored by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, Principal of Robert Gordon University. Mr Russell, Cabinet Secretary for Education then tasked the Chairs of Scotland’s universities to develop the code; a process which started in autumn 2012 and nears conclusion with this final stage of the process.

Until now Scotland’s universities have adhered to a UK code of good governance which was last updated in 2009. The new code looks to build on the solid basis provided by the UK-wide code but requires Scotland’s universities to implement a series of new and progressive measures in the spirit of continuous improvement that would see Scotland’s universities at the forefront of progressive governance within Europe.

The draft code was welcomed by Universities Scotland’s Convener, Professor Pete Downes, also Principal of the University of Dundee:


“The new code makes a significant number of stretching and progressive requirements that will make Scotland’s universities even more transparent, inclusive and accountable to their many stakeholders. I support its introduction in Scotland and I’m confident that all universities will get behind it.

“Universities Scotland welcomed the development of a new code of governance in the spirit of continuous improvement; the principle that universities operate to in all areas of their activity. The code published today builds on the existing UK code which was already held in esteem across Europe and further afield as a model of strong HE governance. The new code, which takes us further on measures of transparency, inclusion and accountability, is set to make Scotland’s universities amongst the most progressive in Europe.”


Whilst the code is not a legislative document and cannot therefore undo provisions within existing statutes it is ambitious in setting out new standards across as wide a range of the review’s recommendations as possible. The code also requires universities to implement a new measure of university governance that was not prescribed in the von Prondzynski review; a new role is recommended for governing bodies that will serve as an intermediary between the Chair and other members. The post holder will also have responsibility for annual appraisal of the Chair.

Scotland’s model of university governance was already highly esteemed amongst international peers. The revised code, which protects university autonomy whilst taking measures of transparency and stakeholder inclusion further, is set to make Scotland’s code a of good HE governance one of the most progressive models in Europe.

Mr Josep M. Vilalta, Secretary General of the Catalan Association of Public Universities offers an international perspective on the new code:


“The new Scottish code of governance is a leading European example of the engagement of students and staff in key decisions, promotion of diversity in governing bodies, and transparency of decision-making. It achieves this without compromising on autonomy, which is crucial for the success of all universities. I look forward to discussing the code further when a Scottish delegation visits Catalonia later this month to learn from each other’s successes.”


The development of the Scottish code of good HE governance has involved an extensive and far-reaching consultation process which included:

  • 78 separate meetings with stakeholder groups held at university campuses across Scotland with grassroots staff, students, union representatives, lay governors and senior management.
  • More than 360 individuals were directly involved in consultation meetings.
  • 74 per cent of all people consulted at meetings at universities were staff, students and union representatives.
  • Input from the five major unions recognised by universities in Scotland.
  • Twelve written submissions including those from staff and student unions, CBI Scotland, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and individuals.



  • The draft Scottish code of good HE governance can be found on the Steering Group’s website at:
  • Consultation on the final code is open until 11 June 2012.
  • The draft code has relevance to section two of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill as it relates to university governance. Today’s publication will provide an opportunity for MSPs, including most notably the Education and Culture Committee, for scrutiny of the code before the Bill progresses to stage two.