Publication of a new code of practice on how universities should be run brought a wave of protest from academic unions this week.
The 17-point code, launched by the Committee of University Chairmen at a conference in London this week, spells out for the first time principles of governance that every higher education institution in the country will be encouraged to follow.
The code covers the role of the governing body, its structure and effectiveness. It says that its proceedings should be as open as possible and there should be an evaluation of a governing body's effectiveness at least every five years.
Although the code is voluntary, institutions will be expected to show in their annual audited statements how they have stuck to it, or if they have departed from it they will have to explain why.
CUC leaders described the code as an important step towards greater self-regulation that would allow most institutions to enjoy a lighter touch from watchdogs and funding bodies.
But union leaders have condemned the code as "disturbing", complaining that it fails to mention staff or student representatives on governing bodies.
The Association of University Teachers said it had written to the Government to protest over the union's exclusion from the CUC's consultation on the code.
Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: "The AUT is concerned that the code of practice fails to set out good practice to ensure that staff or senate members are represented on the governing body. This omission means that failure to include staff on governing bodies will not require an institution to justify this."
Roger Kline, head of the universities department for lecturers' union Natfhe, said: "A university's staff are key stakeholders and I am astonished by the omission of staff and student representatives. This code is disturbing."