The Code of Good HE Governance to which Scotland’s 18 higher education institutions subscribe was introduced in 2013 following an extensive programme of engagement and consultation with stakeholders in higher education. Over 80 separate meetings were held with over 350 staff, students and governors at every higher education institution in Scotland. This process was commissioned by the Committee of Scottish Chairs and led by a Steering Group Convened by Lord Robert Smith of Kelvin.
The new Code built from a place of undoubted strength in higher education governance and took a progressive step forward introducing new measures of diversity, transparency and accountability.
“Scotland’s university sector has long been considered a model to which other countries aspire, and I believe this new code, when implemented, will mean that students and staff will be firmly rooted in the governance of their universities.”
Lord Smith of Kelvin. Chair of the Steering Group. April 2013
The Code consists of 18 Main Principles and supporting guidelines for each. In addition, the document includes some examples of good practice from around the Scottish higher education sector.
Scotland’s higher education institutions responded quickly to the new expectations in the 2013 Code. This required universities to make a number of changes to their existing practice; changes which were discussed and agreed through universities’ governing bodies (the ‘Court’). Collectively over 350 changes were implemented in the first year of the new Code.
One of the most noticeable changes has been the impact on diversity in universities’ governing bodies. The Code set out new expectations that governing bodies should define goals for the equality and diversity of their membership and should review progress against these goals. Since the Code’s introduction there has been considerable progress in the gender balance among Chairs of Scotland’s universities. Nine of the last 12 appointments to the role of Chair have been women, appointed entirely on merit. By autumn 2016, with new appointments taking up their role, the HE sector will have achieved a 50:50 gender balance among the role of Chairs.
The sector made a full report on progress with implementation a year after the Code’s introduction. This was published in early November 2014.
“The new Scottish code of governance is a leading European example of the engagement of students and staff in key decisions, promotion of diversity in governing bodies, and transparency of decision-making. It achieves this without compromising on autonomy, which is crucial for the success of all universities.
Mr Josep M. Vilalta, Secretary General of the Catalan Association of Public Universities.April 2013
Developing the 2013 Code
The creation of a Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance was a recommendation of the 2012 Report of the Review of Higher Education Governance, which was chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski. The Code addressed a number of the recommendations in Professor Prondzynski’s review whilst others were implemented, in modified form, through the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013 and the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016.
The Committee of Scottish Chairs (CSC) was given responsibility for the production of the Code by agreement between the Scottish Funding Council and the then Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP. To deliver this, the CSC established a Steering Committee, chaired by Lord Smith of Kelvin, which in turn commissioned expert consultants to collect evidence that would inform the content of the Code. A draft Code was published for open consultation in April 2013 and the Code in its final form was published in July 2013 and came into force on 1 August 2013.
The Code was adopted by the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) as constituting the principles of good practice in governance with which institutions are required to comply in the terms of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013. This means that compliance with the Code has become a condition on the payment of higher education institutions’ primary public funding
The group operated within published Terms of Reference. Two advisers, both former Secretaries of universities with considerable knowledge and expertise, were appointed to lead the discussions and consultations with students, staff and other interested stakeholders. Full membership details and short biographies of those involved in 2012-13 can be found here.
An extensive consultation process took place involving every higher education institution in Scotland between November 2012 and January 2013. 80 different meetings with staff, including trade unions, students, governors and senior management were organised to capture the views of those working in and affected by governance in the HE sector. Additional meetings were organised with NUS Scotland and the recognised trades unions including UCU Scotland, EIS, UNISON and the STUC. An eight-week consultation period on a draft Code allowed another opportunity for stakeholder input.
The full schedule of stakeholder meetings, steering group meetings and their minutes can be found here.