On the Structure and Functions of University Councils

Resolution of the 11th General Meeting of 22 November 2011

I.    Introduction
The German Rector’s Conference (HRK) has issued a resolution outlining the fundamental challenges to the autonomy of universities in the context of their relationship with the state. Following on from this, there is a need to set out in concrete terms the measures required to strengthen autonomy in particular areas. In the light of experiences with university councils of different kinds – some having only an advisory function, others with decision-making power – it is essential for the HRK to revisit its position on such councils, with a view to reinforcing it, where appropriate, and/or modifying it, where necessary. Fundamentally, the transfer of powers from the state to university councils is welcome, if it leads to a real increase in autonomy for universities. Requirements relating to the composition of university councils must always be linked to their function and the role they play in strengthening the autonomy of universities. It is appropriate that the membership of university councils should include external representatives, if they are to operate effectively as intermediaries between society, the state and universities. Since their purpose is to support the professionalisation of university management, they must possess a high degree of specialist knowledge. Furthermore, it is imperative that, as part of their integration into universities as independent bodies, they be linked to other bodies within those institutions and understand the institutions’ structures.

II.    Requirements
1.    University councils are to take on a strategic function within universities but will not assume any operational functions, especially not employer status.
2.    At least half of the membership of university councils is to be external, but care must be taken to ensure that members possess academic expertise.
3.    University management is to be accountable to university councils. Conversely, the work of the university councils must be transparent to the universities.

III.    Background
Almost all state higher education laws make reference to the institution of the “university council”. These are the direct successors of the former boards of governors and are influenced by the higher education constitutions of other states. The federal nature of Germany has also shaped approaches in this area, with the result that the models for university councils differ greatly in some respects between states. Common to all models is, on the one hand, the inclusion of representatives from outwith the institution concerned – from academia, business and culture – and on the other, a mandate that covers the selection and control universities to self-government, which is rooted in their structure as corporations. The relationship between universities and university councils is to be structured more clearly. Accepting that federalism allows for diversity, it is important to put in place guidelines on the role of university councils that take proper account of universities’ rights to autonomy, so that they can fulfil their duties as a critical friend of institutions. If that is to happen, each university must have its own university council.

IV.    Structures
1.    At least half of the membership of university councils is to be external.
2.    When a university council’s membership is being selected, care must be taken to ensure that the council possesses sufficient academic expertise as a body. This applies especially to university councils made up solely of external members.
3.    The detailed composition of a council and the recruitment process are matters to be resolved by agreement between the university and the ministry responsible.
4.    State legislation must include provision for a university council member to be removed from office before the end of their term. Universities should be granted the right to initiate termination of a council member’s appointment.
5.    The chairs of a university council are not to have supervisory authority over the President and full-time members of the Executive Board. It can be assumed that the President is able to organise his or her affairs independently and on his or her own authority, in agreement with other bodies within the university, and, consequently, does not require a supervisor.

V.    Functions
1.    The university council’s authority must be limited to topics of strategic importance. Operational management of the university is the exclusive responsibility of the Executive Board.
2.    The university council is to be involved in the institution’s long- term development and financial planning.
3.    The Executive Board has a duty to report to the university council.
4.    The work of the university council must be transparent and open to scrutiny by the Executive Board.
5.    The university council is to be involved in the selection and dismissal of members of the Executive Board (right of initiative or confirmation).
6.    Detailed terms of reference are to be agreed on a legal basis between the university and the ministry responsible.