Self-assessment on management and governance

Last full review: December 2021

The University's management and governance arrangements

Information about the University's management and governance arrangements is set out in the Governance section of the University’s published Financial Statements.

Information is also contained in the brief history and overview of the University's governance arrangements.

Appropriateness, adequacy and effectiveness of the University's management and governance arrangements

Information about appropriateness, adequacy and effectiveness of the University's management and governance arrangements is set out in the Governance section and in the Statement of Internal Control in the University’s published Financial Statements.

The University provides a comparison between the University's governance arrangements and those set out in the CUC’s Higher Education Code of Governance. An explanation of the reasons for the existing differences is provided and a description of the differences is set out in a table.

Reviews of the effectiveness of Council are undertaken every three years. The last review took place in Michaelmas term 2018 and the recommendations from that review are in the process of being implemented.

Section 3 of Statute I states that ‘The principal objects of the University are the advancement of learning by teaching and research and its dissemination by every means.’

How these objects are to be taken forward for any given period is outlined in the University’s Strategic Plan.

The Financial Statements provide an operational review of the effectiveness of the University in implementing the plan.

Public interest governance principles

Standard public interest governance principles: applicable to all providers

Principle Where this is addressed
Academic freedom: Academic staff at an English higher education provider have freedom within the law:
(a) to question and test received wisdom; and
(b) to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions;
without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges they may have at the provider.
Academic freedom is defined and provided for in Part A of Statute XII (Academic Staff and the Visitatorial Board). This Statute was revised, following approval by the Privy Council, with effect from 15 February 2017. Disputes over academic freedom are referred to the Visitatorial Board and regulations describe the procedure to be followed. 
Accountability: The provider operates openly, honestly, accountably and with integrity and demonstrates the values appropriate to be recognised as an English higher education provider.

The University’s governance structure ensures accountability, honesty, integrity, and openness within the University.  Full information about the University’s governance structure is available in the brief history and overview of the University's governance arrangements, with a short summary provided here.

The University of Oxford was originally established by common law and later formally incorporated by statute. The University is separate from its colleges, which are founded by charter and are independent and self-governing. The most recent significant changes to the University's internal structures were approved in 1999, following a complete review of organisation, management and financing. A new set of Statutes was enacted in 2002, together with supporting Regulations, and these form the basis of the current legislation. 

Congregation: The sovereign body and 'parliament' of the University is Congregation and decisions made by Congregation are binding on Council. There are over 5,500 members (with many more eligible to join if they wish). Membership is available to most academic staff, members of college governing bodies and senior research, computing, library and administrative staff. The role of Congregation is to: consider major policy issues, which are submitted to it by Council or by members of Congregation; elect members to Council and other University bodies (including the Audit and Scrutiny Committee); approve the appointment of the Vice-Chancellor; and approve changes or additions to the University's Statutes and Regulations. The existence of Congregation ensures that a very high level of accountability and integrity is maintained.

Council: Council is the executive governing body responsible for the academic policy and strategic direction of the University, subject to the powers of Congregation. 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, as described above, subject to the powers of Congregation. The members of Council are charity trustees, bound by fiduciary duties, ensuring accountability, honesty, integrity.

Committees: Below Council are a number of major committees: the Education Committee, the General Purposes Committee (GPC), the Personnel Committee, the Planning and Resource Allocation Committee (PRAC), and the Research and Innovation Committee. These committees are responsible for the matters that Council delegates to them by Regulation or otherwise. Their role is generally one of review, oversight, co-ordination, monitoring and planning although they do have certain decision-making powers as set out in the Regulations. The committees consider reports and, where appropriate, make recommendations to Council.

Academic Divisions: There are four academic divisions led by full-time divisional heads (who sit on Council and its key committees) and have divisional boards to which faculty boards and department committees report. The divisions have considerable delegated academic policy-making authority, as well as budgetary and financial authority within the confines of their budgets (as approved by Council). Their principal responsibilities are oversight and strategic planning, with recommendations made to Council or its committees for major decisions in their respective areas.

Conference of Colleges: Standing alongside the University's governance structure is the Conference of Colleges, providing a means for the colleges to collectively engage with the University. This is a consultative forum and its purpose is to gather the views of colleges, establish a consensus (where possible) and reflect the views of college governing bodies. The Conference of Colleges is represented on Council and on all major committees. The ensure accountability and openness.

(1) Legislation

The University’s Statutes, and the regulations made under those statutes, provide the framework for accountability.

Staff and students

(and the regulations made under these statutes)

Finance and resources:
(2) Policies and procedures

Council, itself or through its committees, issues policies and procedures regarding, amongst other things, different aspects of accountability. Examples are provided below, where relevant with the responsible committee in parenthesis.

(3) Education

Council’s Education Committee publishes Examination Regulations and policies and procedures relating to teaching and learning, and is responsible for oversight of this area. Further information on that may be found below.

Student engagement: The governing body ensures that all students have opportunities to engage with the governance of the provider, and that this allows for a range of perspectives to have influence.

Section 13 of Statute VI, concerning Council, provides for three student members to attend meetings of Council except for such matters of business as may be prescribed by regulation. Regulations 4-10 of Council Regulations 13 of 2002, concerning Council, and Council’s Standing Orders (scroll down to access them) further provide for the role of those student representatives.

University committees

Council’s regulations for committees (Council Regulations 14 and 15 of 2002, passim) provide for student representation on the relevant central committees, and regulations 31-39 of Council Regulations 17 of 2002 provide for student member attendance at Divisional Boards.

Policy and guidance

Beyond this legislative provision, Council’s Education Committee has issued Policy and Guidance on student engagement and representation which is complemented by Oxford Student Union’s Staff Guide to Student Representation.

Academic governance: The governing body receives and tests assurance that academic governance is adequate and effective through explicit protocols with the Senate/Academic Board (or equivalent).

Academic governance of education quality and standards is conducted primarily through Council’s Education Committee (Section 23 of Statute VI and Part 2 of Council Regulations 15 of 2002).

Education Committee reports to Council annually and at other times as required.

Research and Innovation Committee is responsible for oversight of research and innovation policy. It reports to Council annually and at other times as required. The Pro-Vice-Chancellors for Education and Research are in attendance at Council’s meetings report on matters relating to their committees. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Innovation) attends Council and reports on matters within his remit when relevant.

Divisional Boards regulate academic policy and strategy in each of the University’s academic Divisions.

Risk management: The provider operates comprehensive corporate risk management and control arrangements (including for academic risk) to ensure the sustainability of the provider’s operations, and its ability to continue to comply with all of its conditions of registration.

The University’s Risk Management Statement is provided in the University's Financial Statements.

Value for money: The governing body ensures that there are adequate and effective arrangements in place to provide transparency about value for money for students and (where a provider has access to the student support system or to grant funding) for taxpayers.

Council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee reviews the adequacy and effectiveness of the University’s arrangements for, amongst other things, value for money (Part 8 of Council Regulations 15 of 2002).

This is reported on to Council in the Annual Internal Audit Report.

The Planning and Resource Allocation Committee produce an annual Value for Money report to Council.

Freedom of speech: The governing body takes such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that freedom of speech within the law is secured within the provider. Council has issued a Statement on Freedom of Speech and a Code of Practice on Meetings and Events. The Code of Practice on Meetings and Events sets out in its preamble and key principles the centrality to university life of freedom of speech within the law. Freedom of speech within the law is addressed further by Council in its implementation of the Prevent duty
Governing body: The size, composition, diversity, skills mix, and terms of office of the governing body is appropriate for the nature, scale and complexity of the provider.

Council is the University’s governing body. Its composition is laid down in sections 4-14 of Statute VI, concerning Council. It has between 26-28 members. Its membership consists of the principal elements of the University, including the Vice-Chancellor, the heads of the four academic divisions, the chair of the Conference of Colleges and one person elected by the Conference of Colleges, eleven members elected by Congregation, and five external members. Its role and composition in the context of the University’s governance structures are set out in the University’s Financial Statements and are discussed further as part of the history and overview of the University's governance arrangements

The current membership of Council is provided in the Financial Statements and is kept updated on the Council website.

Fit and proper: Members of the Governing Body, those with senior management responsibilities, and individuals exercising control or significant influence over the provider, are fit and proper persons.

Prior to taking up office, and annually at the start of the academic year thereafter, members of Council are required to make a declaration of eligibility as fit and proper persons to act as charity trustees, in accordance with Charity Commission and HMRC guidance. The Pro-Vice-Chancellors with portfolio, the Registrar and the Chief Financial Officer are also required to make the same declaration as fit and proper persons prior to taking up office and annually thereafter. The declaration form is checked annually for currency by Legal Services prior to issue.

Those above people and other senior officers, as defined in the University’s Conflict of Interest Policy and in Council’s Standing Orders are also required to make annual conflict of interest returns. The conflict of interest declarations made by Council members and certain senior officers are available on the Council website.


Additional public interest governance principle: providers authorised with degree awarding powers

Principle Where this is addressed
Records: Where degree awarding powers are solely contained in the provider’s governing documents, and no order either under section 76 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, or under HERA exists, the provisions setting out those powers must be retained and may not be altered without the consent of the OfS.

The University’s power to award degrees derives from its own statutes (Section 1 of Statute X).

The power has been recognised by the Government by virtue of the Education (Recognised Bodies) (England) Order 2013 (SI 2013/2992) (which was made by the Secretary of State under the powers conferred by s.216 Education Reform Act 1988). That Order listed the University of Oxford as one of the bodies conclusively presumed to have the power to award degrees.


Additional public interest governance principles: providers in receipt of financial support

Principle Where this is addressed
Independent members of the governing body: There must be at least one external member of the governing body who is independent of the provider, and whose term of office is normally limited to a maximum of three terms of three years or two terms of four years. For providers with large governing bodies, or more complex legal forms, additional independent members may be appropriate. Council has five external members, whose periods of office are normally limited to two terms of four years. An external member is defined as ‘a person who is not the resident holder of a teaching, research, or administrative post in the University or in any college, society, or Permanent Private Hall’. Sections 4(7)-(10) and 8 of Statute VI (concerning Council) and section 6(12) of Statute I (Preliminary).
Regularity, propriety and value for money: The governing body ensures that there are adequate and effective arrangements in place to ensure public funds are managed appropriately, in line with the conditions of grant and the principles of regularity, propriety and value for money, and to protect the interests of taxpayers and other stakeholders. This also applies to any funds passed to another entity for the provision of facilities or learning and teaching, or for research to be undertaken.

Council sets the University’s budget, receives the quarterly financial forecasts, and approves the submitted forecasts and the Financial Statements. It approves capital projects over a certain sum in accordance with delegations in the Financial Regulations. It is supported in these duties by its Finance Committee and its Planning and Resource Allocation Committee.

Council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee reports to Council on these matters in its annual report, and at other times as needed.

The external auditors of each college are required to confirm to Council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee that public and publicly-accountable funds received by the college from the University (out of grants from the Office for Students and Research England, and student fees) have been applied for education, research and associated purposes or for any specifically identified purpose for which the funds were received and in line with the charitable objects of the college; and that no significant accounting or control weaknesses relating to those funds have been identified. The external auditors are also required to confirm that they have received representations from the college over the proper use of public funds. College Governing Bodies are also required to confirm to Council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee that the college has had appropriate arrangements in place to achieve economy, efficiency and effectiveness (value for money). Council’s Audit and Scrutiny Committee’s annual report provides Council with the assurance on this.