New universities are being urged to find ways to promote openness in their governing bodies that offer opportunities for wider scrutiny similar to those of the old universities' court system, writes David Charter.
Good practice for all universities includes "ensuring machinery exists to maintain a dialogue with appropriate organisations in their communities", according to new advice from the Committee of University Chairmen.
The CUC does not intend new universities to establish a formal body like a court, but wants to see wide dissemination of governors' agendas and minutes. It adds that all HE institutions should set up a register of interests for governors, a remuneration committee and a governor nominations committee to "ensure a wide trawl for names".
The CUC's Guide for Members of Governing Bodies of Universities and Colleges in England and Wales was prepared after the outcry at the size of Huddersfield University's proposed pay-off for its retiring vice chancellor. The advice includes: "Members nominated by particular constituencies should not act as if delegated by the group they represent. No member may be bound, when speaking or voting, by mandates given to him or her by others."
Although the CUC will not police adherence to the guidelines, its secretary Michael Shattock said: "There was quite considerable anxiety to get the guide right, so I would be very surprised if the guide did not become very influential in the way universities operate."
Co-author Brian Heron, pro chancellor of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, said: "This is how institutions should be run and anyone who does not run them that way should be shot - but we don't have any powers to stand them against the wall."
The AUT said it had hoped the guide would suggest changes to the "inadequate machinery" of new university constitutions.