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Supporting the continued success of Scottish universities with a new Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance

Students with book The Scottish higher education sector is one of Scotland’s true success stories, with four institutions currently ranked within the World’s top 200. Universities’ contributions to Scotland’s wider economic, social and cultural well-being are significant and wide-ranging. They employ large numbers of staff, develop the necessary high-level skills of the future and existing Scottish workforce, generate significant levels of overseas income and investment and carry out essential and world-leading research.

Good governance is critical to the effective operation of our universities and to their ability to make a full contribution to Scotland’s success. The Scottish higher education sector is successful because it has a current governance system which is extensive and effective. However, we must recognise that every system is capable of further enhancement and the development of a new Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance is a part of an existing process of continuous improvement in the sector.

Scottish universities fully recognise the vital importance of contributions that their communities of students, staff and other stakeholders make to a regime of effective and inclusive governance. The development of a new Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance will allow for the interests of these communities to be taken into account.


New draft code launched to transform accountability and transparency of Scotland’s university sector

Following substantial consultation and evidence-gathering across the university sector the Steering Group published the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance in July 2013. The Code may be downloaded here:

Download the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance (PDF)


Progress since the Code was published

Since the Code’s publication, the Committee of Scottish Chairs has worked to deliver its implementation and to ensure continued best practice in higher education governance. A number of documents have been developed in this spirit.

August 2015: Guidance note on remuneration committees

In August 2015, Committee of Scottish Chairs published a guidance note on the operation of remuneration committees in Scottish higher education. The guidance note considers the work of remuneration committees and is intended to clarify key principles and elements of good practice.

Download the guidance note (PDF)


April 2015: Policy Statement on Gender

The Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC) comprises the Chairs of Scottish higher education institutions. In April 2015 the CSC announced a commitment to a minimum of 40 per cent of both genders amongst the independent members of governing bodies. The extent to which this has been achieved for the sector will be measured in 2018.

Download the Policy Statement on Gender (PDF)


November 2014: Implementation of the Code

To ensure momentum in its implementation the Committee of the Chairs of Scottish Higher Education Institutions undertook to evaluate progress one year into implementation. The sector has responded quickly to the new governance expectations laid down by the Code. Progressive changes have been made that enhance the sector’s diversity, inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and effectiveness. In total over 350 actions have been taken across the sector. The full report on progress with implementation is available for download here:

Download the Implementation Document (PDF)


Chairs’ open letter on the HE Governance Bill. February 2016

The Chairs of Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions, to be affected by the HE Governance Bill, have written an open letter to the Herald to share their remaining concerns about the Bill and its impact on good governance in the sector if passed as currently intended. The letter was printed in the Herald newspaper on Monday, 8 February. You can read the letter in full and the coverage of the letter in the Herald.

Download the Chairs’ letter (PDF)


Why produce a Scottish Code of Higher Education Governance?

Dr Jun Wei, Senior Researcher and Team, Uni. Highlands and Islands In June 2011, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning commissioned The Review of Higher Education Governance chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski. The Review’s remit was to:

  • consider whether current institutional governance arrangements in the higher education sector in Scotland deliver an appropriate level of democratic accountability given the level of public funding institutions receive;
  • identify and examine proposals for change which observe the benefits of an autonomous sector but will also consider the importance of full transparency; and
  • consider the effectiveness of management and governance, the clarity of strategic purpose and its efficient implementation.

The Review’s consideration was required to encompass:

  • the purpose of university governance in Scotland in the 21st Century;
  • the different forms governance takes across all Scotland’s higher education institutions; and
  • where governance works well, where it does not and what standards of good practice should all governing bodies observe

The Review reported in February 2012 and made a number of recommendations on higher education governance arrangements, including a recommendation for the drafting of a Code of Good Governance for Scottish higher education institutions.

The Committee of Scottish Chairs, in recognition of the benefits to be achieved by developing a Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance which can serve to embed existing best practice across the sector, undertook to commission the necessary work. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning confirmed this approach in his statement to the Scottish Parliament on 28 June 2012.


Who developed the Code?

Strathclyde University The Code was commissioned by the Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC). This group is comprised of the Chair persons or Senior Governors of the governing bodies (or Courts) of all higher education institutions in Scotland.

The CSC appointed a Steering Group to oversee the development and preparation of the new Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance. The Steering Group, in turn, appointed two governance experts to assist them in their work and to ensure that discussions and consultations with students, staff and other interested stakeholders can take place at all 19 institutions across Scotland.

The Steering Group held five meetings and completed its work on the development of a Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance in July 2013 with an interim version published in April 2013.


What does the Code achieve?

The draft Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance takes account of the relevant recommendations of the von Prondzynski Review and, through the use of evidence and consultation, has identified the standards of good practice existing within the higher education sector and elsewhere.

The Steering Group sought to develop a Code which supports Scottish institutions in developing the highest standards of higher education governance. Ownership of the Code, and the responsibility for its maintenance or review in light of any changing requirements, will remain with the Committee of Scottish Chairs.