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Universities' governing bodies need more educationalists, says report

31 March 2011

UCU today backed a Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) report's call for university governing bodies to have a greater proportion of governors with 'deep knowledge, understanding and sympathy' of higher education.

The union said the 'University Governance: Questions for a New Era' report was timely as higher education faces fundamental changes as it tries to adapt to the new funding regime.
UCU has been very concerned by the erosion of staff members on university governing bodies and the parallel increase in members from corporations or large public sector organisations. The union said that many institutions would face difficult decisions in the coming months and the sector needed to be confident that those tasked with taking key decisions had a proper understanding of a university's role in society and its local community.
In the report, author Professor Malcolm Gillies concludes it is 'no more acceptable to appoint governors without deep knowledge, understanding and sympathy with the higher education sector than it would be to appoint to the board of a company people without similar attributes with regard to the industry of the company concerned.'
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Many universities have gone down a dangerous road of appointing large numbers of governors with backgrounds in business or large public sector organisations, which operate completely differently to universities.
'The university is a unique organisation as it has to maintain academic independence. The main function of university governing bodies should be to protect the institution against interference by government and business.
'The higher education sector faces difficult times and individual universities will face tough choices. We all need to be confident that those tasked with making these difficult decisions understand higher education and universities' crucial role in society and the local community.
'Staff representation has been dangerously eroded, as have the roles of senates and academic boards. We have to strengthen the academic input to governing bodies to protect the distinctive ethos of the university and its independent role.'
The full report will be available from
Last updated: 11 December 2015