‘Power needs to move..’: University of Bristol Governance, Decision-Making and Legitimacy

The recent industrial action has highlighted and exacerbated longstanding concerns amongst staff about university governance.

This was one of strands of our Bristol UCU branch conference in early June. The central problems are a lack of democratic legitimacy in decision-making compounded by a lack of transparency about the information, especially financial information, that underpins decision-making. We need a more democratic mode of governance that better reflects our values as a university community.

Decision-making is currently too centralised. Power needs to move away from the centre, and towards staff. A more devolved approach to governance is needed., This will require both structural and cultural change. If ,however, we are to learn the lessons of the dispute, and to move on as a university, such change is essential. It will not be accomplished overnight, but we outline below some concrete steps designed to initiate the process of discussing and achieving better governance at Bristol.

Potential Ways Forward

  • Review of governance by group of staff and students, including representatives of trade unions and early career academics, to report end of 2018

The group could consider (along with submissions from staff) the following set of proposals Board of Trustees

  • Elected element needs to be restored incorporating provision for gender balance
    taff presence should include some designated representation from union officers


  • Greater diversity in lay membership: certain kinds of private sector experience, especially financial services, are currently over-represented


  • Mayoral/City nominee to Board of Trustees: despite presence of various local bodies in make up of Court, this does not necessarily create a strong link between the university and the city within the Board of Trustees


  • Staff and Student representation on the Remuneration Committee – the recent Halpin Review at Bath proposes this, and it would be best practice.


  • Improved communication from Board of Trustees to university community


  • Senate should be strengthened, and better supported to do its essential work


  • An elected chair of Senate


  • A return to Senate determining the order of business, and which items are to be prioritised for discussion


  • Greater transparency in financial data provided to Senate


Representation for professional services staff. Professional services staff have experienced a wave of restructurings in recent years yet lack any form of representation akin to Senate for academic staff. We note that the Halpin Review of Bath floats the possibility of a Senate-like body for professional services staff. There is certainly a deeply felt need to address the lack of voice and representation for professional service staff across the University.

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