Higher education institutions (HEIs) are complex multi-million pound businesses, operating in an increasingly competitive market place. A governing body is responsible for taking decisions on all matters of fundamental importance.
While the composition of the membership of a governing body is determined by the institution's constitutional arrangements, there will normally be a majoirty of of independent or 'lay' (external) governors. In addition, membership of the governing body also normally include 'internal' governors. These are typically the head of institution (and in some institutions a number of other senior post-holders), students (often the president of the students' union) and individuals who are members of the institution's academic and professional staff.
Individuals from outside the organisation are normally invited to become 'lay' members on the basis of their knowledge and expertise or the access they offer to specific networks or organisations, which are of value to the institution.
Staff and student governors are normally elected or 'ex officio' (i.e. by virtue of their office. E.g. the student union president). They must accept that they should always act in the best interests of the institution, and not as delegates for the constituencies from which they are drawn.
When joining a governing body it is important that the individual understands their role and responsibilities, including the challenges faced by the institution they are joining. If the individual is unfamilar with higher education, they face the immediate task of understanding how the sector works. By contrast new staff and student governors are likely to face different challenges.
For further information go to Governors' briefing note No. 1: becoming a governor
HEIs are autonomous and increasingly less reliant on public funds. Most however still receive some element of public funding. Appointments to HEI governing bodies are expected to reflect the standards of appointments to public office.
The Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments publishes a Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies. The Code set out the principles that should be used when making an appointment, the selection process and summaries the Nolan Principles (ie. formally the Committee on Standards in Public Life).
For Scotland the Commission for Ethical Standards in Public Life in Scotland has published proposals on Enhancing the Public Appointments Process in Scotland. Contained within the Report is the Annex: Code of Practice for Ministerial Appointments to Public Bodies in Scotland.
In Northern Ireland there is separate guidance: Marking your mark - A Guide to Public appointments in Northern Ireland