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Developments in university governance - action for change

3 February 2021

Commissioned jointly by Universities Wales and chairs of Universities Wales, the 2019 the Gillian Camm Review (Camms) into HE governance is best understood as the sector's final attempt to stave off independent regulation. Accepting the need to address historical failures, Camms' remit was; 'to enable governors to operate at the leading edge of good corporate governance both in terms of compliance and crucially boardroom culture'.

Amongst the Camm recommendations, institutions were encouraged to;

  • have a clear appreciation of the culture of the organisation
  • have clear mechanisms in place to ensure that the voices of both students and staff are heard
  • ensure that stakeholders including staff, students and strategic partners are able to engage with and contribute to the key strategies of the university
  • provide a significant increase in the transparency relating to governance
  • ensure that challenge and discussion is encouraged throughout the organisation and by the governing body
  • ensure that relevant information, benchmarking and guidance is available to ensure that the governing body can provide valuable, effective and focused challenge.

Commitment to Action - implementation

In order to implement the Camm recommendations, the new governance charter (Commitment to Action - 2020) amounts to a code of voluntary self-regulation in which institutions undertake a series of steps designed 'to transform governance and adopt best practice from both within and outside of the sector'.

The subsequent framework commits institutions to an annual review of quantitative and qualitative data around organisational culture as well as '360 feedback reports' with consideration of any gaps between actual and desired culture.

Other areas of focus cover stakeholder engagement, the size and shape of the governing body, diversity & inclusivity, and governor development - including providing thorough induction and support for new governors.

In terms of its operation, each university in Wales will provide an update on progress in its annual report whilst HEFCW will provide regular updates in relation to the work they are leading on; producing reports commenting on progress made against the commitments. It is suggested that Commitment to Action will constitute a 'living document'. That said, it is not immediately clear how lessons will be consolidated.

Areas of focus for UCU

University governance has direct implications for staff and students. The increasing concentration of executive power has coincided with the erosion of collegiate practices and the historical role of senate. This process is further reflected in the growth of managerialism. Meanwhile, the diminishing weight given to staff voices introduces a dangerous instability whereby early warnings are ignored and issues only addressed once they become existential.

Recognising Commitment to Action's potential for reform, the UCU higher education executive has resolved to afford these plans critical support. However, it does so on the basis that:

  1. far from a rubber stamping exercise, discussion must take place in the forums where decisions are made
  2. the recommendation that workforce representatives are 'equipped to understand and challenge' should be read in its widest sense. Social partnership requires access to data, information and resources
  3. the success of these arrangements must be subject to ongoing review.

Next steps

UCU Wales will convene a governance network, embed a reporting network and develop a tool-kit for workforce representatives.

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