Universities should model their governing machinery on the "old" universities with staff and student representation, open systems for nominating governors and all decisions except those concerning individuals made public, according to advice circulated to all universities and blessed by the Government.
The advice was drawn up by the Committee of University Chairmen, in consultation with the Department for Education, following the National Audit Office report on the University of Huddersfield. Huddersfield has since changed its governing body in line with the recommendations.
The new guidelines, which cannot be binding because universities are autonomous, may not go far enough to satisfy education unions and the Labour Party particularly in respect of including staff and student governors.
Bryan Davies, the Labour further and higher education spokesman, who is rewriting his party's higher education policy paper, said that a Labour government would not be satisfied to trust universities to follow the guidelines.
Labour would bring in secondary legislation to amend the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act to ensure proper public accountability and representation of staff and students on governing bodies, he said. "The guidelines certainly represent a marked improvement, but whether they go far enough is open to doubt, and we cannot be sure all universities will follow them."
Lecturers' union leaders said that advice alone would not be enough to bring an end to policy and decision-making behind closed doors by self-perpetuating and unrepresentative boards of governors and called for legislation to beef up the new code and give it some "teeth".
David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said that a reference to the fact that "old" universities are bound by statutes to ensure staff and student representation was the key to the proper way forward.
"If the new universities, where most of the problems have occurred, were required to take on similar statutes, it would guarantee greater accountability without threatening academic freedom," he said.
Liz Allen, higher education spokeswoman for Natfhe, the lecturers' union, said: "What we want to see is relatively simple amendments to the present legislation. We must not forget that everything is not altogether rosy in the old universities as well as the new."
The advice also recommends:
* governors should be appointed for fixed terms of three or four years; * no governor should serve more than nine years nor after the age of 70; * governing bodies should operate in accordance with principles of "openness and transparency"; * universities should consider the "old" university model of having a large court representing all those interested in the university alongside the governing body; * governors should set up remuneration committees to decide on the salaries and terms of employment of vice chancellors and senior members of the university.
The CUC holds a database of vice chancellors' emoluments and conditions of service.