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Payment for university Governors

12 Jul 2019 | David Williams A new report draws attention to the question of whether to pay the governors of higher education institutions. The report provides contextual information and suggests further work to examine the question is required.

A new report, Payment for University Governors? A discussion paper, published by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), explores the question of whether university governors should be paid.

The report provides details of the remuneration of non-executive directors for selected comparative sectors, such as health sector foundation trusts and housing associations, and for different national systems of higher education.

Questions to consider

The report contains contextual information and raises the question of whether the payment of governors could have benefits in terms of governor recruitment and diversity and accountability. However, the report does not explore all of the potential implications of paying at least some members of a governing body. These might include, for example, does payment of, say, the chair of a governing body increase the risk that the role begins to take on some of the characteristics of an executive chair? Does paying only the chair (and perhaps the chairs of committees) “de-facto” create a two-tier membership of the board, by emphasising the importance of a sub-set of roles?

The wider context

The question of paying governors also needs to be placed in the wider context. The author of the report acknowledges that if the prevailing model of institutional governance in higher education needs attention, it is unlikely that the question of whether or not to pay governors will in itself provide the full solution. 

The need for additional research

The questions raised in the current report draw attention to the need for additional research. There is limited information in the public domain about the experiences of those institutions that remunerate members of their governing body, and whether, and in what ways, payment has made a difference. Or indeed, the circumstances under which institutions have considered removing payment. At the moment this information is missing. As a recent roundtable event on Higher Education Trustee Remuneration illustrated, many governors and governance professionals are genuinely unclear on whether and, if so how, the payment of governors would make a difference.

Concluding remarks

With the expectation that the responsibilities of governors are likely to continue to increase, the question of paying governors is unlikely to go away. Additional research to aid understanding of whether or not to pay governors is urgently required.

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