Skip to main content

Useful information about governance in higher education

For lay governors who may be working in higher education for the first time, we have collected useful websites and resources which provide information about areas specific to higher education.

Higher education facts

Names and locations of HE institutions in receipt of public funding

Information on institutions receiving public funding for higher education in the four jurisdictions of the UK is available via the links shown below.

  • A map of the location and the names of both Further and Higher Education institutions funded in England continues to be provided on the HEFCE website.
  • The Scottish Funding Council publishes 'Facts and Figures' detailing the higher education institutions it funds.
  • A list of HE institutions funded in Wales is available on the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales' website.
  • The Department of Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland lists the institutions it funds to undertake higher education in Northern Ireland.

Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA)

HESA is the official agency for the collection, analysis and dissemination of quantitative information about higher education. It publishes information on a range of subjects. Material is available for purchase in hard copy. A significant amount of statistical data is freely available on HESA's website on the following topics:

Useful websites

Websites focusing on HE

  • The website for the Committee of University Chairs offers a range of reports and templates on the work of governors and governing bodies.
  • The Higher Education Policy Institute is an independent body which commissions and publishes research on higher education policy.
  • The Times Higher Education, published weekly, offers news, comment and analysis on developments in higher education
  • Universities UK is one of main representative bodies for higher education institutions (HEIs) and undertakes and publishes its own research and briefings on developments in the sector.
  • GuildHE is also a representative body of higher education institutions whose membership includes a number of specialist institutions.
  • The Universities and Colleges Employers' Assocation offers resources for employers, including discussing health and safety, pay and pensions.

International HE policy context and statistics

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development collects national statistics and compiles international reports on different national education systems. Annually (normally in September) it publishes a major report, 'Education at a Glance', which contains international data and commentary on higher education.

Governance in the private sector

Although there a differences in the governance arrangements found in the private sector and higher education, best practice applying to the private sector is frequently adopted by HE funding bodies, who then require their adoption by HEIs.

The Financial Reporting Council (FRC) is the UK's independent regulator responsible for promoting high quality corporate governance. The FRC publishes Codes of Practice and undertakes various consultations with private businesses.

The Financial Times is a good source of articles on governance, particularly on matters relating to the private sector.

Foundation Trusts

The governance model of Foundation Trusts

Foundation Trusts (FTS) have been introduced to move away from the highly centralised system of 'command and control', previously used for the planning and direction of National Health Service hospital trusts. FTS are not-for-profit, public benefit corporations. In comparison with hospital trusts, FTS have a significant degree of managerial and financial freedom. They can, for example, retain surpluses and borrow for investment.

The governance structure for FTS is designed to achieve local accountability. FTS have a duty to engage with their local communities and encourage local people to become governors who, on appointment, sit on a Council of Governors. One of the statutory roles of the governors is to hold the non-executive directors individually and collectively to account for the performance of the board of directors.

The board of directors is a unitary board, responsible for the day-to-day running of the FTS and formed of both non-executive and executive members. At least half of the directors, including the Chairman, are expected to be non-executive and judged to be independent.

Non-executive directors are remunerated for the work they undertake with the FTS. The Code of Governance for FTS states as a general principle: 'levels of remuneration should be sufficient to attract, retain and motivate directors of the quality and with the skills and experience required to lead the NHS foundation trust successfully...' The Code goes to state: 'levels of remuneration for the chairman and other non-executive directors should reflect the time commitment and responsibilities of their roles.

Possible implications for the future governance of higher education institutions

The FTS governance model has a number of features of interest to higher education sector. These include:

  • given the time they need to commit to the work and their responsibilities, in order to attract the 'right' calibre of people non-executive directors are paid
  • making the non-executive directors accountable to the Council of Governors. This is one solution to the question that Malcolm Gilles has raised in terms of higher education governance: 'who guards the guards'.

Jargon busting

Initially one of the most annoying - and puzzling - aspects of higher education for a new governor is that everyone seems to speak in a coded language, and frequently what is meant by this code or shorthand is never made clear. Rather it is assumed either that everyone knows, or that those who don't will 'pick it up' fairly quickly and become 'one of us'. Of course, this happens in most organisations, but the diversity and complexity of higher education means that jargon is particularly rife. In this download there are a number of widely used words or phrases, with a short explanation for what each means

Download the resource