‘Unacceptable’: University may have broken rules by retaining governor

Photo: Jim Bains

The University could be in breach of a Scottish government policy by deciding to keep on its senior governor after his term limit expired.

The Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance states that “the reappointment of a chair beyond two terms of four years, or the equivalent, should be regarded as exceptional.” But at a meeting in January, members of the University Court voted to reappoint Ewan Brown, who has been the senior governor for eight years since August 2006, “for a further and final period of two years, from 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2016”. He had been due to step down in July this year.

The senior governor is one of the University’s most important figures and serves as its day-to-day chairman. His responsibilities include chairing the Court – the University’s highest governing body – in the rector’s absence.

The Saint understands that the reason given for retaining Mr Brown was that no other Court members were suitable to take over the role.

Chloe Hill, the president of the Students’ Association, who sits on the Court, expressed her frustration at the University’s apparent failure to comply with the guidelines.

She said: “I was disappointed that the Court had not make provisions to ensure we had a new senior governor at the end of Ewan’s term, and voiced my concerns that this wasn’t an acceptable solution. It is important to have a regular cycle of Court members to ensure it is dynamic and forward thinking.”

Minutes from the meeting note that “a defined process for the identification of a potential successor [should] be put in place well in advance of the completion of Mr Brown’s final term, to allow for appropriate succession planning and a handover of responsibilities.”

As well as overseeing the Court, the senior governor is responsible for representing the University on national bodies and annually reviewing the principal’s performance.

He also convenes several Court subcommittees. These include Planning and Resources, which authorises large expenditures such as those for the Union and Athletic Union redevelopments, and Remunerations, which is responsible for setting the pay of senior staff.

The initial recommendation to extend Mr Brown’s term was made by the Governance and Nominations committee, a group of eight members including the principal and the president of the Students’ Association. Minutes of the G&N committee are not publicly available.

Because the senior governor is elected from among the Court’s lay members, candidates must already hold a position to be eligible for the job. Since 2006 Mr Brown had held the role of general council assessor, a position with a term limit of eight years.

When this period expired Mr Brown was given the role of chancellor’s assessor, allowing him to remain on the Court and be reappointed as senior governor. The previous chancellor’s assessor, Dr David Erdal, who vacated his seat for Mr Brown, sat on the G&N committee that recommended Mr Brown’s reappointment.

The chancellor’s assessor position does not have a set term limit. A review of higher education governance commissioned by the Scottish government in 2011 recommended that “the existing practice in some universities of having ‘chancellor’s assessors’ should be discontinued”.

A University spokesperson failed to explain why the Court had not complied with the Code of Good HE Governance. Instead, when asked to respond to the concerns, they said: “Ewan Brown has been an outstanding senior governor for the University and we are delighted to have his knowledge and experience on Court. His reappointment was made through the relevant committees, which incorporate staff and student members, and was in line with the code current at the time.”

Although the Code of Good HE Governance does not constitute a strict set of rules and is not legally binding, it notes in its introduction that “all universities in Scotland will be expected to comply with the Code’s main principles and to observe the guidelines.”

It also says that “the Scottish Funding Council will require institutions to follow the Code as a condition of a grant of public funding… Accordingly the Code is issued on a ‘comply or explain’ basis.”


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