Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

HEPI asks: is it time for university governors to be paid?

  • 11 July 2019

The Higher Education Policy Institute has published a new report on whether university governors should be paid.  

Payment for university governors? A discussion paper  (HEPI Report 118) by Alison Wheaton looks at practice in other sectors, including the NHS, housing associations and companies, as well as practice abroad. She argues that payment is one way to improve the skills, diversity and engagement of governing bodies in a changing regulatory environment.

Seven English universities currently pay their governing body chair between £15k and £25k a year. Two pay committee chairs but no other external members. Under new legislation, upon request of the incoming chair, Scottish universities must pay chairs and two currently do so. The likely range will be £16k to £27k.

The report finds:

  • All NHS Trusts and many housing associations pay their governors, with chairs earning between £20k and £40k a year. In the NHS, other members earn between £6k and £13k. Housing associations pay their Board members between £12k and £34k a year.
  • In Australian universities, practices vary by state. Where governing body members are paid, the chairs earn between £25k and £76k a year while members receive between £10k and £35k.
  • Apart from English universities, all other sectors examined have either legislated (Scotland) or sector-led self-imposed institutional targets relating to gender diversity. UK-listed companies also have targets for ethnic diversity.

The report recommends:

  • Sector bodies should continue to ‘own’ the development of good governance, including on equality and diversity. 
  • The Office for Students should also consider its role in encouraging sector-wide governance enhancements.
  • A new working group should review sector-wide governance arrangements, particularly with regard to skills and diversity.
  • The Committee of University Chairs should consider the issue of governing body member remuneration as part of the current review of its Higher Education Code of Governance.

Alison Wheaton, a doctoral research student at UCL’s Institute of Education and author of the report says:

The issue is not simply whether English universities should pay their governors. First we need to address what kind of governance is required in the future in terms of skills, diversity and engagement. Paying governing body members may be one of many available tools.

The volunteer model of governance is under severe strain. The pressure comes from practices in other sectors, candidates’ expectations, as well as the new regulatory environment. This all increases the time and breadth of skills and experience required of governing body members.

Nick Hillman, Director of HEPI, said:

The regulation of English higher education institutions has been transformed in recent years. The Office for Students, in particular, expects governing bodies to take a deeper interest in both academic issues and issues of access, as well as other contested areas – like free speech and senior staff pay.

But there is compelling evidence that the quality of governance in our sector has not kept pace with the volume of change. We need more professional and more diverse governing bodies to reflect the new world. Other sectors and other countries have already moved to paying Board members. The time is ripe for a much more serious conversation about whether the broad sweep of English universities should now do the same.

Notes for Editors

  1. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate as well as through our own events. 
  2. Alison Wheaton is a full-time PhD student at UCL’s Institute of Education, researching university governance. She is an Associate Consultant with Advance HE. She was previously President and Chief Executive Officer of GSM London, during which time she also served on the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Leadership, Governance and Management Strategic Advisory Committee and as a founding member of the UK-wide Steering Committee for Quality Assessment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *