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Review of governance at Plymouth University

This article was previously published on the Leadership Foundation website.

Governance at the Plymouth University has come under the spotlight. A series of events, including the suspension of the then Vice Chancellor, Wendy Purcell; the resignation of the Pro Vice Chancellor; and allegations made against, and the subsequent resignation of, the then Chair of the governing body, all received considerable media attention.

In January 2015, it was reported that the Vice Chancellor had been made President of the University, and Professor Coslett confirmed as the interim Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive. The University is shortly to recruit a new Vice Chancellor.

Following a recommendation from HEFCE, in November 2014 the University commissioned the Good Governance Institute (GGI) to undertake a review of governance at the University. The work was completed in February 2015.

GGI’s report has been made public, together with the University’s responses to the recommendations it makes.

In their report GGI suggest the findings about the University’s governance are likely to be of wider interest to the higher education sector. Without discussing the role of individuals and their actions, the GGI report makes a number of observations, including:

  • The important of trust and confidence being at the heart of effective governance
  • A lack of understanding by many staff (including senior staff) of the fundamental governance and decision-making structures of the University
  • The under-representation of the ‘academic voice’ on decision-making bodies
  • The benefits of appointing a Senior Independent Director
  • The importance of cross-membership between the academic board and the governing body
  • The need to restore the seniority of the position of university secretary/clerk, and for the post holder to act as the ‘conscience of governance’
  • A need to rebuild the trust of staff, including increasing the visibility of the University Executive Group within the university
  • The Chairman, Vice Chancellor and Secretary/Clerk form the ‘golden triangle’, which lies at the heart of effective institutional governance

Issues for governing bodies to consider:

  • The likely problems should there be a fracturing in the relationship between members of the ‘golden triangle’, or if the structures of the institution’s system of governance are disconnected
  • The importance of having an effective and representative system of academic governance and ensuring cross membership between the academic board (or senate) and the governing body

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