Council is responsible, under the Statutes, for “the advancement of the University's objects, for its administration, and for the management of its finances and property” and has “all the powers necessary for it to discharge those responsibilities”. Council is therefore responsible for the academic policy and strategic direction of the University, including its relations with colleges and external relations. All decisions concerning the University are made by Council or by any other body or person to whom Council delegates such decision-making powers, always subject to the powers of Congregation.
The primary responsibilities of Council are set out below.
Principles of governance and management
There are clear distinctions between governance and management. However, the overriding aims of both governance and management in the University of Oxford are the promotion of the University's mission statement and the preservation of academic freedom within the law, combined with academic and financial responsibility.
Governance involves defining policies and setting objectives, the setting of objectives for the securing of resources, the appointment of senior staff sufficient to meet the objectives and the monitoring of progress towards those objectives. Council members need to be satisfied that processes and procedures are in place which are sufficient, necessary, and effective in running the business of the University. They do this by asking probing, searching questions and ensuring responses are sound, confident and consistent, rather than doing direct checking themselves.
Management involves advising Council about policies and objectives, devising means of meeting the agreed objectives and being held accountable for implementing the policies of Council. Effective management, and good governance, are underpinned by the following key principles:
- Council is responsible to Congregation for the academic policy and strategic direction of the University;
- Council is accountable for the financial health of the institution;
- the roles and responsibilities of Council, its committees, and senior staff, should be defined, agreed, and regularly reviewed;
- the competencies of Council, its committees and senior staff should be in line with the needs of the institution and should be regularly reviewed;
- the institution should have a strategic plan and an annual operating plan and budget;
- the strategic plan should be supported by a financial and investment strategy;
- all risk associated with the governance of the institution should be recognised, assessed and managed;
- management information should be relevant, reliable and timely;
- communication should be effective throughout the institution;
- systems, which are robust and fit for purpose, should be implemented and reviewed on a regular basis.
From time to time Council will review its own effectiveness and the institution's structures and performance and ensure it is able to satisfy itself that it is able to discharge its external accountability (including audit) requirements both in the academic and financial spheres.