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What is governance

A governing body is responsible for taking decisions on all matters of fundamental importance. In the private sector, the Cadbury report defines governance as 'the system by which companies are directed and controlled. Boards of Directors are responsible for the governance of their companies. The responsibilities of the Board include setting the company's strategic aims, providing the leadership to put them into effect, supervising the management of the business and reporting to shareholders on their stewardship.'


It is well known that higher education institutions are complex businesses, operating in an increasingly competitive market market place, so it is crucial that an individual who takes on this responsibility understands every aspect of the role, including the challenges faced by the institution they are joining. This is also true of those involved in the important work of supporting governance in HE. 

Michael Shattock sees higher education governance as: 'the constitutional forms and processes through which universities govern their affairs'. Shattock adds that while governance and management are theoretically separate functions (management is more about the preparation of policy proposals, the implementation of what has been agreed and the efficient and effective deployment of resources), however, in a higher education context they have close a interrelationship, in ways not always found in the corporate world. Governance operates at many more levels in most higher education institutions than in many other fields.

At the level of the governing body, typically higher education governance comprises:

  • Ensuring accountability and effective scrutiny
  • Setting strategic aims and goals
  • Monitoring and measuring performance
  • Appointing and ensuring the effectiveness of the head of institution/chief executive officer (CEO)

Additional Resources

Briefing note 2: Governance and Management

This briefing note begins by considering what governance is. It introduces the different constitutional forms of higher education providers, before considering the boundary between governance and management. It flags the risk of agency, before noting that there has been a tendency for the demands placed on governing bodies and governors to increase.
Download the briefing note

Briefing note 3: The workings of a governing body

This note considers the role and duties of the Chair of governing body, Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, the head of institution and the Secretary/Clerk. To be effective in discharging their duties governors need to receive appropriate and timely information, and have sufficient time at meetings for key matters to be discussed and agreed.
Download the briefing note

Find out more about getting into governance

Getting into governance