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A review of governance of the universities in Wales

An independent review of governance in Welsh universities has been published. The review advocates the development of a Wales Governance Charter: a charter for change. Organised around seven core values, the review contains 21 recommendations. While focused on universities in Wales, the review makes observations and recommendations that may be adopted more widely.

Commissioned by Universities Wales and the Chairs of Universities Wales, the review was carried out by an independent lead from outside Wales; Gilliam Camm formerly Chair of the Board of Governors at the University of West of England and Chair of the Leadership Foundation.

The rationale for the review

The review was established following “a number of recent instances in Welsh universities where governors have struggled to deal optimally with particular issues”.

Terms of reference (ToR)

The ToR included the:

  • composition of the governing body
  • process and quality of decision making
  • relationship between the executive and governing body
  • remuneration of chairs and governors.

Basis of the review

The review was based on field work involving representatives from all universities in Wales, together with other relevant organisations; the lessons from governance failure (see Appendix C of the review) and consideration of governance developments and codes of governance (see Appendix D).

Core values

The review suggests that good governance should be based around seven core values, namely:

  1. Trust
  2. Accountability
  3. Probity
  4. Transparency
  5. Competence
  6. Challenge
  7. Engagement

Next steps

The central recommendation of the review is the development of a collective Wales Governance Charter, aiming to give a clear commitment for action. The Charter should outline a “series of commitments to change in governance, including commitments to timescales”. The review suggests there should be “some form of auditing process to confirm to stakeholders that action had been taken”.

Governance values – a basis for the charter

The specific recommendations offered by the review are aligned under the core values. For example, in relation to the second core value, accountability, recommendation 2 suggests “consideration should be given to adopting a stakeholder approach to governance”.

Other recommendations include:

Long term viability reporting

As in adopting a stakeholder approach, a number of the recommendations in the review reflect the development of governance practice in other Codes or sectors of the economy. For example, also under accountability, recommendation 14, suggests than in order to provide a “full picture on organisational sustainability” there is a case for adopting the Long term viability reporting found in the corporate sector.

Annual report

The review suggests “governance within universities generally is distinctly opaque”. It believes there should be a greater consistency in reporting, and there should be a move to the universities in Wales agreeing a common level of disclosure. Citing the example of Vodaphone as an example of good practice (see section on governance in the company’s 2019 Annual Report), the review indicates the fields of information which might be included in a university’s annual report.

Board evaluation

The report recommends these should take place every three years, not least as this “should allow for feedback from most governing body members at least once in their tenure”.

Development of governors

The review believes the development of governors “needs an overhaul.” It proposes that a UK-wide Governance Knowledge Hub is developed.

Remuneration

The review found that current members of governing bodies were not in favour of paying governors, but notes there was “more sympathy” for the payment of Chairs. The review concludes that while the direction of travel may be inevitable, the time is not right to instigate payments.

Conclusion

The review of Welsh governance raises immediate issues for universities in Wales, but equally raises questions for higher education providers operating in the other jurisdictions of the United Kingdom to consider.

Advance HE offers a range of services to support member institutions to deliver good governance, for example resources that address diversity concerns, such as the Board Diversity Framework and the Board Vacancies Portal as well as Getting into governance,  good practice guides, publication. 

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