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Committees are an essential component of university governance. All universities will have a hierarchy of formal committees ranging from institutional-level committees headed by the Board of Governors (or equivalent), through to committees at Faculty, School, and departmental/divisional level.

1: Committee Terms of Reference

All formal committees should have Terms of Reference that describe the purpose, remit and authority of the committee. Terms of Reference should include clear and specific information on the organisation of the committee, its membership, any sub-committees that it is responsible for, reporting relationships to parent/superior committees, and frequency of meetings.

Terms of Reference should normally be approved by the parent committee. For example, changes to the Terms of Reference of Finance Committee will be subject to approval by the Board of Governors.

The Terms of Reference for Nominations Committee provide an illustrative example.

2: Committee Membership

There are various categories of committee membership:

  • Ex officio – indicates an individual who is a member by virtue of their role. Membership is automatically changed when the post-holder changes. Ex officio members are not appointed for a finite period
  • Appointed/Nominated indicates a person whose membership has been determined or formally approved by another person, senior committee, or group
  • Elected indicates a person whose membership is the result of an election
  • Co-opted indicates a person appointed as an additional member in a personal capacity, often on a short-term basis, and usually because there is a need for that person’s specific expertise


Attendees are not members of a committee, but are those colleagues who are present at the meeting in addition to the members of the committee.

Attendees will normally include:

  • the committee secretary
  • officers who attend the committee on a regular basis (e.g. the Director and Deputy Director of Finance both attend Finance Committee)
  • colleagues who have been invited to a committee meeting to present a specific paper or report