Skip to main content

GDP: Role and Responsibilities of Staff Governors

London, Copthorne Tara Hotel, Kensington, Scarsdale Pl, W8 5SY
County / Region
United Kingdom
Position on the Pathway
Governor's Pathway
Fellowship Category
Event Type
Networking Events
Start Date
End Date
One day
Institution Type
Higher Education and Further Education
Price From

For new and continuing Staff Governors and those considering whether they would like to become a Staff Governor.

This one-day event, which forms part of our Governor Development Programme (GDP),  will consider the role of Staff Governors and how they can best make an effective contribution to the work of the governing body. Staff Governors provide a direct link between the staff of the institution and the governing body, yet a balance must be struck as they are not acting as a representative of the constituency from whom they have been elected or appointed. As Governors, they should act in the best interests of the institution and accept collective responsibility for the decisions agreed by the governing body. Independent Governors may also look to Staff Governors as a source of information to help their understanding of the institution, and to gain insights into how it operates.

The event will look at the importance of building good relationships with other members of the governing body, explore how difficult issues can be raised, and the balance between supporting and challenging the executive.

Governors Pathway

GDP: Role and Responsibilities of Staff Governors - Event Agenda

Venue: Copthorne Tara Hotel, Kensington, Scarsdale Pl, W8 5SY

09.30   Arrival: registration and refreshments

10.00    Welcome and introductions
             Aaron Porter, Associate Director Governance, Advance HE

10.15    Understanding HE governance and decision making 
             Roger Gair, University Secretary, University of Leeds

11.00    Composition of HE boards 
             Alison Wheaton, Associate, Advance HE & PhD Research on University Governance, UCL Institute of Education 

11.45    Refreshment break 

12.00    When governance goes wrong  
             Dawn Turpin, Associate, Advance HE & former Head of Governance, Open University 
12.50    Lunch 

13.50    Staff governor panel
             Dominic Laffy, Staff Governor and Principal Lecturer, Regent’s University London 
             Matthias Feist, Member of the Board of Trustees and Employability Student Enterprise Manager, Regent’s University,                 London 
             Sarah Cowls, Staff Governor and Director of Student and Academic Services, Queen Mary University of London

14.40    Refreshment break 

14.50    Table discussions

15.30    Closing remarks 

Download Resource

GDP: Role and Responsibilities of Staff Governors - Event Agenda



Aaron Porter, Associate Director (Governance), Advance HE
Aaron Porter is the associate director (governance) for Advance HE leading on engagement with governing bodies and governance across the UK, and has led over 15 reviews of board effectiveness. He has worked with over 75 universities both in the UK and overseas, as well as projects for national governments focused on higher education. He is a member of the governing council at Goldsmiths, University of London, a non-executive director of BPP University and is chair of the Board of Governance at Nelson College a specialist higher education college in East London.

He was previously served on the council of the University of Leicester, and the boards of a number of Higher Education sector bodies including Higher Education Funding Council for England (now the Office for Students), Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, the Higher Education Academy and the Office of the Independent Adjudicator. Outside of higher education, he has served on the board of directors for Endsleigh Insurance.

He was previously president of the National Union of Students in 2010-11, during the high profile debate on tuition fees, appearing extensively in the media including BBC Question Time, Newsnight and the Politics Show. He also co-chaired the Beer/Porter Student Charter group which reported to the higher education minister David Willetts in January 2011, and was a member of the Higher Education Funding Council for England Online Learning Taskforce and the review of External Examiners chaired by Dame Janet Finch both conducted in 2010-2011.

Outside of higher education he is a governor for a primary (All Saints' Church of England) and secondary school (Whitgift School) in South London, a member of the education committee for the General Chiropractic Council and a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He is also a qualified football referee and a keen follower of cricket.  In 2014, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Leicester in recognition of his contribution to higher education and the student experience.

Aaron Porter

Roger Gair, University Secretary, University of Leeds

As University Secretary, Roger is responsible amongst other things for providing advice and support to the Council, Senate and their committees; corporate governance, including ethics; overseeing and co-ordinating the University’s response to changes in the external regulatory framework;  policy and compliance in relation to Freedom of Expression and Prevent;  student discipline, complaints and appeals;  policy and investigatory responsibilities in relation to whistleblowing, bribery and corruption, and allegations of misconduct in academic research;  legal services and legal compliance, including GDPR and Freedom of Information;  protocol, including graduation ceremonies and other major University events;  and overseeing the management of critical incidents (including student emergencies).

Roger Gair

Alison Wheaton, Associate, Advance HE & PhD Research on University Governance, UCL Institute of Education

Alison Wheaton is conducting full-time doctoral research in university governance at University College London’s Institute of Education.  Her discussion paper on Payment for Governors was recently published by the Higher Education Policy Institute.  She has worked as an Associate with AdvanceHE governance-related projects including Governance 2020 and academic governance in private providers.

She served as President and Chief Executive Officer of GSM London – one of the UK’s largest independent providers of higher education – until 2016.  During this time, she served on the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Leadership, Governance and Management Strategic Advisory Committee. She was also a founder member of the new UK-wide Standing Committee on Quality Assessment.

Previously, Alison worked at Mitchells and Butlers plc, the UK’s largest branded hospitality retailer, in variety of Executive Director roles, including Strategy, Property, IT and Managing Director of Hollywood Bowl and the London pub estate.  She served as a Non-Executive Director Member of the London Development Agency where she oversaw the land assembly for the London 2012 Olympics.  She joined M&B from PepsiCola International, where she worked in Finance and Marketing.  She started her career at Morgan Stanley International.

Alison Wheaton

Dawn Turpin, Associate, Advance HE & former Head of Governance, Open University

Dawn has over 20 years’ experience in leadership and management positions within the higher education sector with expertise in corporate and academic governance, executive and non-executive recruitment, risk management, strategic programme management, strategic planning and information rights.

Most recently she was Head of Governance at The Open University (OU) with responsibility for leading reviews of the effectiveness of the University's governance arrangements and managing the operation of governance across the University. Dawn left the OU in January 2019 to pursue a career in consultancy.

Dawn has previously served as a co-opted member of the Board of Trustees of the Association of University Administrators and is currently a lay representative for Health Education England providing scrutiny and assurance to the work of the Thames Valley team supporting doctors and dentists through their training. Dawn also provides governance support to a Northampton Primary Academy Trust school.

Dawn graduated with an MBA from The Open University in 2014.

Dawn Turpin

Matthias Feist, Employability & Student Enterprise Manager, Regent’s University London

Educated in Germany, the UK and Japan, Matthias works across the whole student lifecycle, from induction through graduation to alumni status. He has managed employability and placements, enterprise, and alumni relations teams in large public sector universities to niche private institutions, covering subject areas ranging from business, arts & humanities, psychology & psychotherapy, to civil aviation. His non-exec work includes being the retired chair of PlaceNet - the Placements in Industry Network and serving on the board of Regent's University London. Matthias speaks at conferences, runs trainings and away days. Often a trouble-shooter and sometimes a trouble-maker, he is keen on technology, innovation, collaboration and disruption.

Matthias Feist

Dominic Laffy, Staff Governor and Principle Lecturer, Regent’s University London

Dominic is principal lecturer in strategic management in the faculty of business and management at Regent’s University London. He joined as an academic 25 years ago, first teaching information systems related subjects then focusing on strategic management.

He served two 3 year terms on the Senate and separately the Joint Consultative Committee. He has conducted joint research and presented resulting papers at the British Academy of Management and International Design Connexion conferences. In 2012/2013 he served as associate head of department for the department of marketing and strategy.

Dominic became a staff trustee in July 2014, and is now part way through his second 3-year term, and is a member of the Finance & Investment Committee.

Dominic Laffy

Sarah Cowls, Director of Student and Academic Services, Queen Mary University of London

Sarah Cowls is the Director of Student and Academic Services at Queen Mary University of London. She has been a member of the university governing body for three years, as the elected member for non-academic staff. As Director of Student and Academic Services Sarah is responsible for Library Services, Careers and Enterprise, Student Wellbeing, E-Learning, and some elements of development for academic staff, she also has a wider responsibility for the student experience across the university.

Sarah has approximately 20 years of experience working in the higher education sector, covering a wide range of roles across faculties, schools, academic governance, quality assurance, student support and registry activities. She has completed the MBA in Higher Education Management and the AHUA Professional Services Directors Programme.

Outside of Queen Mary, Sarah is a trustee for several organisations including the University Schools Trust MAT and the Panacea Charitable Trust.  

Sarah Cowls

If you would like to find out more about our other governance events, please visit our Governance Development Programme page.

Find out more
Governance Brochure