July 16, 2008

The Seven Principles of Pulbic Life - Higher Education

From: Summary of Nolan Committee's Second Report (1996)

Summary of the Nolan Committee's First Report on Standards in Public Life

Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.

In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.

Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.

Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.

Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.

Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

These principles apply to all aspects of public life. The Committee has set them out here for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way.

Higher and Further Education

The systems of governance in the higher and further education sectors reflect both the origins of the institutions and of recent legislation. The 'old' universities are governed by charter or specific Act of Parliament. Former polytechnics became 'new' universities as a result of the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act, which also set down the system of governance for further education institutions. In addition to providing resources, funding councils for the sectors have a role in regulation and dissemination of best practice.

Many of the institutions have evolved systems of governance over many years and it would require evidence of substantial misconduct to justify sweeping changes. We received no such evidence. However, we urge institutions to review their practices and procedures in the light of best practice identified in this report. We believe it is particularly important for institutions to follow best practice in limiting the use made of commercial confidentiality and in explaining themselves to their communities.

While the principle of academic freedom is applicable to the right of individuals to pursue research and express opinions without political pressure, it does not justify a lower level of accountability for higher education institutions. Our recommendations on confidentiality clauses, appeals, disputes and whistleblowing tackle those aspects of academic freedom which are relevant to our terms of reference.

R3. Appointments to the governing bodies of universities and colleges should be made on the basis of merit, subject to the need to achieve a balance of relevant skills and backgrounds on the board.

R4. The automatic representation of the TECs and LECs on college governing bodies should be ended.

R5. Individual universities and colleges should be encouraged to set out key information to a common standard in their annual reports or equivalent documents where they do not already do so. Material on governance should be included in the annual reports or equivalents of further and higher education institutions. Representative bodies should take the lead in promoting this with the support of the funding councils.

R6. Representative bodies, with the help of the funding councils, should produce a common standard of good practice on the limits of commercial confidentiality, and should encourage all institutions to be as open as possible subject to those limits. All institutions should have publicly available registers of interests.

R7. Institutions of higher and further education should make it clear that the institution permits staff to speak freely and without being subject to disciplinary sanctions or victimisation about academic standards and related matters, providing that they do so lawfully, without malice, and in the public interest.

R8. Where it is absolutely necessary to include confidentiality clauses in service and severance contracts, they should expressly remind staff that legitimate concerns about malpractice may be raised with the appropriate authority (the funding council, National Audit Office, Visitor, or independent review body as applicable) if this is done in the public interest.

R9. Students in higher education institutions should be able to appeal to an independent body, and this right should be reflected in the Higher Education Charters.

R10. The higher education funding councils, institutions, and representative bodies should consult on a system of independent review of disputes. A similar process of consultation should be undertaken by the equivalent further education bodies.

R11. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment should re-examine the practice of appointing vice-chancellors and principals of English institutions to the board of HEFCE to determine whether an alternative exists, which avoids perceived conflicts of interest, and to ensure that existing rules protect against any potential conflict of interest as the council is presently constituted.
From: The Association of University Administrators (promoting excellence in HE management), revised July 7, 2005

University administrators must strike a balance between the needs of a number of stakeholders. They are responsible in many ways for the welfare of our institutions, for the interests of staff and students...

The seven principles will not have an impact unless everyone from board level down understands the framework of behaviours that is expected of them...

Individual values can be put to the test as a result of a tension with the corporate values of the institution as a result, for example, of:

  • pressure to cross the threshold between exploiting the rules of funding regimes and unacceptable misrepresentation of data

  • the intensification of competition internationally not only for students but also for research achievement

  • the development of extreme forms of managerialism

  • the increased emphasis on PR, marketing and presentation, and the extent to which this can lead to pressures for inaccurate 'spin' and 'hype'...

  • The work of the Nolan (now Neill) Committee on Standards in Public Life, emphasises the need for all those working in higher education to observe the highest standards of professionalism. The... code of professional standards is a welcome development in achieving and sustaining this goal...

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    I know of at least one institution that has failed in its duty to uphold the Nolan Principles of governance --- Kingston University, which has shown itself to have behaved in an 'underhand' fashion on many occasions and has repeatedly bullied its staff and students.

    For more info on this serial offender visit: