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Lessons Learned Review

19 Dec 2018 | David Williams Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen and the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) have jointly published a report of the lessons learned review undertaken in relation to the events which led to the resignation of the University’s Principal and the appointment of his successor. The review was established following comments made in the media and by stakeholders regarding matters of governance.

The aim of the review was to identify potential improvements in policies, procedures and process both with regard to the University and to the higher education sector more generally. It was not the purpose of the review to reconsider the decisions made by the University.

The review details how the government body responded to a series of events, which included receipt of an anonymous public interest disclosure and criticism relating to the appointment of the University’s deputy principal to the position of principal on a two-year fixed-term contract.

The report contains recommendations for different elements of the higher education system. A number of the recommendations are reproduced below.


Consider the development of more tailored guidance to determine the best approach in circumstances of anonymous allegations being made against senior personnel.

Recommendations to the Committee of (Scottish) Chairs (CoC)

To develop a sector-developed template for senior-level settlement agreements to improve transparency and confidence in such arrangements.

What actions governing bodies can take in order to demonstrate, in a timely manner, their commitment to Code (Scottish Code of Good HE Governance) even as, for reasons of circumstance or expeditiousness, a departure from full compliance has been necessary.

Recommendations for universities

To consider developing a Resilience Plan (RP). ‘The RP can be thought of as Business Continuity for the governing body, when there is a discontinuity at the very top of an organisation.’

Recommendations for SFC and CoC

Develop a confidential mechanism whereby governing bodies can access experienced officer-level and governor support from other institutions.

Communications was a persistent issue in relation to the events reviewed. It is recommended that assistance be sought from ‘someone able to step back from the immediate events and visualise issues in a wider context ….’

Final thoughts

The lessons learned review provides an interesting insight into how a governing body responded to an unanticipated set of events, which emerged without prior notice. It makes a number of recommendations as to how governing bodies might be better prepared and supported should such unforeseen events arise.

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