University Court

University Court

The University Court is the University’s governing body and has ultimate responsibility for the University. The powers of Court are defined in accordance with The Acts, Ordinances and Resolutions of the University of Aberdeen, 1858-1990, the Court’s Statement of Primary Responsibilities, and the Universities (Scotland) Act 1966.

The University is also a registered Scottish Charity and as such the Court as the governing body is the board of trustees. Therefore, all its members are charity trustees and subject to Scottish charities law, with accountability to the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR). The University's charitable purposes as registered with OSCR are "The advancement of education", "The advancement of health", "The advancement of citizenship or community development", The advancement of the arts, heritage, culture or science."

The high-level articulation of the University Court’s role is to set the mission, strategic direction and values of the University, and to monitor and challenge the execution of the strategy by the Principal and Senior Management Team. The Court must secure appropriate assurance on academic governance and quality from Senate.

To support effective decision-making, Court composition brings independent perspectives as well as those from individuals in academic, professional services, Trade Union and student roles. While on Court, all Court members are required, as charity trustees, to act in the best interest of the University, its beneficiaries and charitable objects.

Further information on key aspects of the Court’s remit, composition and operation can be found below.

Court Digest

After each of its meetings, a digest summary of the main items discussed by Court is provided for students and staff to access. You can find more information about this, plus copies of recent Court Digests here.

Remit

A detailed remit for the Court does not exist. The various Acts of Parliament conferring powers and responsibilities on the Court do not set out specific duties in a comprehensive way, although most of the legislation relevant to the University is contained in a single text, The Acts, Ordinances and Resolutions of the University of Aberdeen, 1858-2023, which may be consulted on application to the Clerk to the Court.)

The main functions of the Court are set out in its Statement of Primary Responsibilities. These can be summarised, however, as:

  • To approve the mission and strategic vision of the University, including institutional and longer-term academic and business plans, and key performance indicators, and to ensure that they meet the interests of stakeholders, including students, staff, alumni, local and national communities and funding bodies.

In support of this, the Court has agreed a revised schedule of delegation which sets out business reserved to University Court for decision and matters delegated to its sub-committees or the executive. This is available here.

Some powers of the Court are exercised by making an Ordinance or approving a Resolution.

The University (Scotland) Act 1966 sets out the regulations by which the University Court has powers to make new Ordinances/Resolutions or amend existing Ordinances/Resolutions. In each case, consultation with the Senate, General Council and the wider public (by means of public notice of the draft Ordinance or Resolution on the University website for eight weeks for an Ordinance or four weeks for a Resolution) is required. Draft Ordinances or Resolutions for comment are published on the separate tab above on this page.

The Court of the University will then consider any comments received at a meeting after the stipulated period has expired. The University will then seek approval of the final version of the Ordinance from the Privy Council. A Resolution can take effect as soon as it is approved by the Court following the required consultation; an Ordinance can take effect only from the date on which it is passed by Her Majesty in Council.

Legally, the University Court is a body corporate, with perpetual succession and a common seal.

Definitions of Court Terms

  • As a body corporate, the Court is recognised in law as owning a legal personality separate and distinct from the personality of its members, and hence as capable of owning property, entering into contracts, employing staff, and suing and being sued.
     
  • Perpetual succession signifies the Court's power to appoint its own members (subject to statute) without further reference to any external authority.
     
  • The Common Seal represents the Court's authority to secure or guarantee its undertakings. The University Seal, together with signatures of Court members continues to be used to endorse formal legal documents on behalf of the University.
     
  • An Ordinance is a further definition or stipulation of existing powers, as prescribed by Acts of Parliament - for example, amendment of the composition of Court, Senate, etc. This requires the consent of the Privy Council.
     
  • A Resolution represents the elucidation of a power which is within the Court's own competence to enact - for example, the creation of a new Chair.
Composition & Membership

Composition

The composition of the Court numbers 25 members and is formally set out in Ordinance 145, approved by Her Majesty in Council on 19 July 2017. It may be summarised as: the Rector, the Principal, the Senior Governor, one person elected by academic staff, one person nominated by non-academic staff, one person nominated by a trade union from among the academic staff, one person nominated by a trade union from among the support staff, four assessors elected by the Senate, two students nominated by the Students’ Association, and twelve independent members appointed by the Court (who may not be members or staff or students) of whom at least four will be members of the General Council.

For further information on the formal composition of Court see: Ordinance No 145

While members of the Court are drawn from different "constituencies" no member of the Court is present as a "representative" of any particular sectional interest. Mandates are not recognised but, of course, each member brings his or her particular background and expertise to the work of the Court. All members are equal and free to express an opinion or cast a vote in the best interest of the institution as a whole.

Membership of the Court

Further details of the Court membership are available here: Court Membership

Members of Court may be contacted via the Clerk to the Court: b.purdon@abdn.ac.uk

Further information on the Skills Register of Court Members is available here: Skills Register 2021

Governor Role Description

Experience and attributes 

The Court is made up of 25 governors, nine are members of staff. It is important to ensure that across this membership there is a wide range of skills and experience.

 However, the key attributes required of members are:

  • Significant experience of leadership and management at a senior level in either the public or private sector, preferably gained over a number of years’   service across a range of large and complex organisations;
  • An ability to evaluate and monitor the performance of the University in a constructively critical manner, whilst mindful of the boundary between governance and management;
  • A commitment to the highest standards of governance;
  • The ability and the courage to exercise independent judgement;
  • A commitment to furthering the values of higher education and the mission of the University of Aberdeen in particular.  

Responsibilities

Each governor is responsible, collectively with all members of Court, for the strategic leadership and governance of the University. That translates into more specific responsibilities of which the following are key:

  • To ensure that the Court exercises efficient and effective use of the resources of the University, maintains its long-term financial viability, and safeguards its assets, and that proper mechanisms exist to ensure financial control and for the prevention of fraud;
  • To exercise oversight in respect of the academic, corporate, financial, estate and human resource functions delegated to the authority of the Principal as chief executive;
  • To ensure that Court conducts itself in accordance with accepted standards of behaviour in public life, embracing duty, selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability and stewardship, openness, honesty, leadership and respect. Members must at all times regulate their personal conduct as members of the Court in accordance with these standards;
  • To establish constructive and supportive but challenging working relationships with the University employees with whom they come into contact, whilst recognising the proper separation between governance and executive management;
  • To act fairly and impartially in the interests of the University as a whole using independent judgement and maintaining confidentiality as appropriate.

Governors may also be asked to serve on Committees of Court or University and complaints and appeals panels by mutual agreement, and to play a role in liaising between key stakeholders and the University and in fund raising.

Governor roles are unremunerated but expenses are paid. Directors and Officers Liability Insurance is in place.

Board Diversity

University Court is committed to promoting equality, creating a culture of inclusivity and celebrating the diversity of its staff and student communities.

In working continuously to achieve this, Court also believes that its own membership should represent the diverse nature of the University community, to include a variety of perspectives, skills, ages, genders, cultures and ethnicities.

Most recently, the Court has appointed a new Governor Apprentice, as part of a national Governance Apprenticeship Programme to create new opportunities in support of the development of diverse and inclusive Boards and providing valuable Board experience to individuals from underrepresented minority groups.

Details of the Court’s approach and reporting in this area are provided below.

Court Minutes, Agendas and Papers

It should be noted that minutes will be published after they have been approved at the following Court meeting and are therefore not liable to be amended. Whilst it wishes to make minutes as widely available as possible, the University is concerned not to inhibit discussion at its committees, and therefore occasionally minutes may have sections removed (redacted) for reasons of confidentiality. In these instances, a note will be inserted indicating that the minute has been edited on the grounds of confidentiality.

For minutes, agendas or papers from years prior to those available below, please contact the Clerk to Court in the first instance.

The Court agenda is made available prior to the meeting of Court to which it relates. Court papers (redacted where confidentiality restrictions apply) are made available here for consultation following the meeting to which they relate or on request to the Clerk to Court.

Clerk to Court: Mr Bruce Purdon
Telephone: 01224 273949
Email: b.purdon@abdn.ac.uk

2023/24

19 June 2024

24 April 2024

  • Minutes (to follow, subject to approval at June Court)
  • Papers
  • Agenda

28 February 2024

12 December 2023

21 November 2023

26 September 2023

2022/23

21 June 2023

26 April 2023

1 March 2023

22 November 2022

4/5 October 2022

2021/22

28 June 2022

22 March 2022

23 November 2021

29 September 2021

29 June 2021

23 March 2021

23 February 2021

Court Governance, Policies and Procedures

The modern constitutional framework of the University of Aberdeen derives from the Universities (Scotland) Acts 1858 to 1966 and the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016. These Acts make provision for the main statutory bodies and officers of the University: the Court, the Senate, the General Council, the Chancellor, the Principal and Vice Chancellor, the Rector and the Senior Independent Member of Court, and set out the powers and duties of the statutory bodies, as well as specifying their composition.

In addition, the Court has a number of supporting policies, protocols and guidelines relating to the appointment of its members, and its general operation:

Draft Ordinances and Resolutions
Notice of Ordinances and Resolutions for Comment
Proposed Changes to Resolution: Changes to Regulations of Various Degrees

The following draft Resolution is currently available for comment until Thursday, 6 June 2024. Further details on how to submit comments are available within the following document.

Draft Ordinances and Resolutions recently closed for comment

No notices at present.

Approved Ordinances and Resolutions

Update pending.

Skills and Effectiveness Review

In order to support its key functions, University Court regularly conducts both internal and external effectiveness review, to confirm that it has the structure, processes, people and performance to deliver its remit and goals.

In 2021, the University completed externally facilitated reviews of its governance, which included the three key bodies of Court, Senate and the Senior Management Team. You can read the findings of those reports here  and here.

The findings of the reviews were adopted respectively by the Court and Senate and are in the process of being implemented. You can read the implementation plans here.

Adoption by the Court of the findings of the externally facilitated review of governance also completes a key requirement of the Scottish Funding Council’s 2020 review of the retirement settlement terms of the previous Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Ian Diamond – OSCR Inquiry Report into PMFP

In addition, Court conducts regular review of the skills, attributes and competencies of its members to ensure an optimal balance of essential knowledge, perspectives and experience across its Committees and activities.