Over-governed Exeter culls its committees

November 9, 2007

Exeter University is abolishing most of its governing committees after admitting that its current total of 60 leaves it less than "fleet of foot", writes Melanie Newman. In a bid to make individuals more accountable and to streamline decision-making, the university has appointed individual management leaders, each helped by a lay member of the governing council, to take responsibility for each area of business previously covered by a committee.

A briefing note on the change said that "despite regular culls, there are still over 60 (committees), and an examination of the system would not currently support a conclusion that the organisation is entrepreneurial and fleet of foot."

While people will still need to meet, they do not need to do so via a "hierarchy of committees", the note concludes.

David Allen, the university's registrar and a former chair of both the Association of University Administrators (AUA) and the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA), said: "We want to reduce the amount of committee-driven governance while giving individuals more responsibility and making them more accountable. The change should also make life more interesting for our lay governors."

Management leads will be responsible for policy development in the relevant area and for approving expenditure. They will meet regularly with the lead governor, who will be "encouraged to challenge received wisdom".

The lead governor's chief responsibility is to assure council that the right processes have been followed in reaching decisions. The university is to retain some committees, including council, senate, the science and strategy board and at least five other committees including audit, education, safety, council nominations, remuneration and strategy, performance and nominations.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said that reassurance had been given that formal negotiating procedures between the campus trade unions and the university would not be changed.

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