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November 2004/40
Good practice



Guide for Members of Higher Education Governing Bodies in the UK

Committee of University Chairmen

This guide is aimed at governors of higher education institutions in the UK. It shares current good practice and encourages its appropriate adoption across the higher education sector. A voluntary code of practice is proposed to which, it is hoped, all institutions will be able to subscribe or explain where their practices differ. A summary version of the guide (HEFCE 2004/40a), containing only the code of practice and general principles, is also available. The advice was prepared in August 2004.

View most recent CUC guide (March 2009)

Introduction and table of contents (read on-line)


Full guide in PDF format
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Download individual sections in Word:

Part I Governance Code of Practice
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Part II General Principles of Governance
[ MS Word 163K | Zipped Word 32K ]

Part III Information for Governors
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Part IV Case Studies of Current Governance Practice
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Part V Annexes
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Institutions of higher education in the UK are complex organisations. Each is characterised by a distinctive ethos, is autonomous, and is responsible for the management and direction of its own affairs. In other respects they are bound together by identical challenges. All are looked to by learners to provide much more than in previous decades, and by Government to underpin economic growth and social engineering. Those who work in the HE sector also have greater expectations of their career opportunities and progression. In 2004 higher education institutions are ambitious communities.

Governing bodies must also be ambitious, as they create the circumstances to convert aspiration into outcomes within a rigorous framework of governance.

This guide shares current good practice and encourages its appropriate adoption across the sector. It is hoped that all higher education institutions will gain from the recommendations we make. We propose a voluntary code of practice to which, it is hoped, all institutions will be able to subscribe. This develops substantially the draft code proposed in the Lambert Report (see Bibliography).

This guide, the first edition of which was published in 1995, is intended to assist members of governing bodies of universities and colleges of higher education in the UK in the performance of their duties. This fourth edition incorporates the outcome of the Committee of University Chairmen's (CUC) latest review of current practice in corporate governance, and the outcome of the recommendations of the Lambert Report. Another new feature is the inclusion of exemplars of good governance practice.

This edition is divided into five parts. Part I comprises the new Governance Code of Practice adopted by CUC in the light of the recommendations of the Lambert Report. Part II is concerned with the general principles of governance and the role of the governing body. It considers the main responsibilities of members of governing bodies towards their own institutions, to Government and Parliament, and to the wider community.

Part III contains detailed information about specific aspects of the higher education system. It shows the main differences between the HE sectors in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Since the internal organisation, procedures and regulations of individual institutions vary enormously, Part III provides only an overview. Members of governing bodies should therefore refer to the secretary or registrar or clerk to their governing body for information about the arrangements in their particular institution.

Part IV contains case studies from the review of current practice undertaken by CHEMS Consulting, and Part V comprises annexes providing background information.

A summary version of the guide, containing only Parts I and II, is also available. The full guide is a reference document, whilst the summary is intended for wider distribution.

The guide has been prepared by the CUC, in association in particular with the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) which has helped to compile and publish it. Such support has been invaluable. Without the encouragement of HEFCE and subsequent engagement of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW), the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC), the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DEL), Universities UK, Universities Scotland, the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA), the Standing Conference of Principals (SCOP), and CHEMS Consulting this guide would not have been produced.

There have been many positive advances in governance since the previous edition of this guide. We trust others will recognise the determination of those who have prepared this guide to deliver to the sector governance models and practices to meet the challenges of today. If we do so, then we anticipate that Government, as one of the funders of the sector, will acknowledge that a lighter touch of regulation is now both appropriate and timely.

Sir John Carter
Committee of University Chairmen

Dr Andrew Cubie, CBE
Committee of University Chairmen’s Governance Group


Part I Governance Code of Practice

  • Role of the Governing Body
  • Structure and Processes
  • Effectiveness and Performance Reviews

Part II General Principles of Governance

  1. Summary of Responsibilities of Members of Governing Bodies
  2. Conduct of Governing Body Business
  3. The Regulation of Resource Management

Part III Information for Governors

  1. England
  2. Northern Ireland
  3. Scotland
  4. Wales

Part IV Case Studies of Current Governance Practice

  • Introduction
  • Recruitment, Selection and Training and Development
  • Conduct of Governing Body Business
  • The Framework of Governance of HEIs
  • Oversight of Commercial Activities
  • Measuring Institutional Performance
  • Examples of Approaches to Undertaking Effectiveness Reviews

Part V Annexes

  • Annex A Other Codes of Practice
  • Annex B Glossary of Terms
  • Annex C Abbreviations and Acronyms in Higher Education
  • Annex D Representative Bodies in Higher Education
  • Annex E Higher Education Institutions Funded by the Funding Councils
  • Annex F Bibliography and Useful Web-sites
  • Annex G Membership of the CUC Governance Group