Submission to Review of Higher Education Governance (2011)

This paper is Universities Scotland’s response to the Scottish Government’s Review of Higher Education Governance.

The governance system in place in Scotland’s higher education sector can be described as one which is in a process of continuous improvement and which is perceived to be robustly fit for purpose. However, every system is capable of improvement and Universities Scotland welcomes the opportunity which the Review presents to secure further evolution of university governance.

The paper provides details on the following aspects of governance in Scotland’s higher education sector:

  • The context for good governance; the importance of good governance; and what “good governance” means for Scotland’s universities in the twenty-first century.
  • An overview of current governance arrangements in Scotland’s higher education sector, including Government and SFC requirements and powers; accountability; and ‘responsible autonomy’.
  • Recommendations on how to secure further evolution of university governance in Scotland, including improvements which can be implemented by the sector itself through the development of a Scottish version of, or supplement to, the existing CUC guidance; and others that will require consideration or action by other parties.

Universities Scotland's recommendations

Recommendation 1: Supplementary Scottish guidance for universities should be developed by Universities Scotland, SFC and the Committee of Scottish Chairs which makes more specific reference to the need for university governance to take account of the contribution which universities make, along with wider stakeholders, to the achievement of economic, social and cultural wellbeing

Recommendation 2: Universities Scotland, SFC and Scottish Government should agree a framework for the periodic updating and publication of indicators of universities‟ economic, social and cultural contribution, building on existing structures such as the Tripartite Advisory Group (TAG) and the sector-level outcome statement

Recommendation 3: The Review should consider whether universities should give consideration to relevant Community Planning documents in their strategic planning processes.

Recommendation 4: The Review should consider whether universities‟ engagement with local stakeholders and communities should explicitly be reflected in the SFC‟s planning guidance to institutions.

Recommendation 5: Supplementary Scottish guidance for universities should be developed by Universities Scotland, the SFC and the Committee of Scottish Chairs which defines the best current practice as the norm for inclusion of students and staff in key decision-making committees of  court.

Recommendation 6: Supplementary Scottish guidance for universities should be developed by Universities Scotland, SFC and the Committee of Scottish Chairs which ensures that all universities comply with best practice in making the discussions of governing body and key decision-making committees conveniently accessible on the internet, except where freedom of information/data protection issues require their non-disclosure.

Recommendation 7: This supplementary guidance should also require that the names of all governing body members should be accessible on the internet, perhaps in a central location, together with details of how to make representations to governing bodies.

Recommendation 8: The supplementary Scottish guidance referred to above should require the application of best practice standards to appointment of Chairs and members of governing bodies, including clear definition of the required competencies, open advertisement, the formation of boards with diverse skills and backgrounds, and the involvement of external persons in key appointments.

Recommendation 9: Universities Scotland, the Committee of Scottish Chairs, the SFC and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education (LFHE) should develop specific Scotland-wide induction and training support for members of governing bodies.

Recommendation 10: The supplementary Scottish guidance referred to above should strengthen effectiveness reviews by requiring the application of emerging best practice, including the involvement of external members.

Recommendation 11: The supplementary Scottish guidance should establish as a norm that external assessors should be involved in the selection panels for Principals.

Recommendation 12: We do not see the case for further extension of the current model of Rector and recommend that the Review does not give this further consideration.

Recommendation 13: We do not see a compelling case for the development of a single statute. We recommend that the Review does not give this further consideration at this stage.

Recommendation 14: We would welcome the opportunity to work more closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish institutions are not placed at a competitive disadvantage by relaxations of the regulatory regime for higher education institutions in other parts of the UK.

Recommendation 15: Whilst the underlying principles of good HEI governance must apply to all HEIs, because of their specialist subject areas and stakeholder communities, and also their specific operational needs, the specific governance arrangements for the Small Specialist Institutions (SSIs)
should be considered separately, to ensure relevance, proportionality and fitness for purpose.

Key Points:

  • HE governance is effective and subject to a process of continuous improvement.
  • Universities need to be agile and able to take decisions and operate quickly and flexibly.
  • There is strong evidence of a clear link between responsible autonomy and success.
  • Universities are subject to an enormous amount of scrutiny, notably through the Scottish Funding Council to Scottish Ministers but also directly to the Scottish Parliament and a wide range of statutory and other regulatory authorities.


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