Higher education institutions (HEIs) are complex multi-million pound businesses, operating in an increasingly competitive market place. A governing body is responsible for taking decisions on all matters of fundamental importance.
While the composition of the membership of a governing body is determined by the institution's constitutional arrangements, there will normally be a majoirty of of independent or 'lay' (external) governors. In addition, membership of the governing body also normally include 'internal' governors. These are typically the head of institution (and in some institutions a number of other senior post-holders), students (often the president of the students' union) and individuals who are members of the institution's academic and professional staff.
Individuals from outside the organisation are normally invited to become 'lay' members on the basis of their knowledge and expertise or the access they offer to specific networks or organisations, which are of value to the institution.
Staff and student governors are normally elected or 'ex officio' (i.e. by virtue of their office. E.g. the student union president). They must accept that they should always act in the best interests of the institution, and not as delegates for the constituencies from which they are drawn.
When joining a governing body it is important that the individual understands their role and responsibilities, including the challenges faced by the institution they are joining. If the individual is unfamiliar with higher education, they face the immediate task of understanding how the sector works. By contrast new staff and student governors are likely to face different challenges.
HEIs are autonomous and increasingly less reliant on public funds. Most however still receive some element of public funding. Appointments to HEI governing bodies are expected to reflect the standards of appointments to public office.
Briefing note 1: Becoming a Governor
Getting to grips guide
Getting to Grips with Being a New Governors is designed to help new Governors in HEIs to reflect on how the overall nature of governance is changing, and therefore how HE governance sits within a wider context.