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Guide for Members of Higher Education Governing Bodies in the UK: Incorporates the Governance Code of Practice and General Principles

March 2009 | ref: 2009/14

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 either follow or be able to explain where their practices differ. A summary version of the guide (HEFCE 2009/02), containing only the code of practice and general principles, is also available. The advice was prepared in November 2008.


  • 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 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


Institutions of higher education in the UK are complex organisations, each characterised by a distinctive ethos. Each institution is autonomous and responsible for the management and direction of its own affairs. Yet almost all depend substantially on central government funding and face many similar challenges.

In particular, universities and colleges must respond to heightened expectations from their students, from Government, from business and from their own academic and professional staff. Learners are more demanding. Government seeks to underpin economic growth and social inclusion. Business and industry look for graduates with stronger and more relevant skills to compete in the world economy. And those who work in the higher education sector have greater expectations of their career opportunities and progression. At the start of the 21st century institutions of higher education have become highly ambitious communities. Governing bodies must therefore also be ambitious, as they seek to mould the circumstances which will convert those aspirations into successful outcomes within a robust and reliable framework of governance.

The Committee of University Chairs (CUC) has as its first aim supporting the higher education sector to develop the highest standards of governance. In 2004 we shared current good practice and encouraged its adoption across the sector. We also proposed a voluntary code to which, we hoped, all institutions would be able to subscribe. Events have substantially justified our confidence. We now offer an updated guide, intended further to assist members of governing bodies of universities and colleges of higher education throughout the UK in the performance of their duties.

This guide is a reference document. It is divided into four parts. Part I comprises the 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. Part III contains detailed information about specific aspects of the higher education system, outlining the main differences between the HE sectors in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Part IV comprises annexes providing background information.

A summary version of this guide is also available which is made up of Parts I and II of this full version. The guide has been prepared with the encouragement of HEFCE and the invaluable support of a wide range of sector bodies.

In many ways publication of the 2004 edition of the CUC Guide was a landmark event. The authors and compilers did their work well and the publication was quickly adopted as a 'gold standard' across the higher education sector in the UK. Although some of the material in this new edition, especially relating to Scotland and Wales and to new charity legislation, has changed substantially, on the whole little alteration has been necessary. In particular the Governance Code of Practice and the General Principles of Governance remain largely unchanged, and we continue to commend them to all governing bodies.

Sir Andrew Burns
Committee of University Chairs

Page last updated 7 December 2011

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