UCL Committees Code of Practice


This Code of Practice comprises a summary of the essential definitions, principles and procedures governing UCL committee operations at an institutional level.

Although the Code relates principally to the operation of UCL’s formal committees, some of the principles, etc, contained herein are applicable in other committee contexts, eg for non-formal UCL committees and committees operating at faculty and departmental level – see (10)-(11) and (20)-(24) below.

The Code of Practice should be read in conjunction with the Guidance on servicing UCL committees.

Academic Services, which is based within UCL Student and Registry Services, is responsible for overseeing UCL committee operations and for promoting the effective communication of information relating to UCL’s formal committee system, including: maintaining details of UCL’s formal committees and overseeing the online storage of Minutes of these committees; defining policy and good practice guidelines on the preparation and dissemination of committee documents; and maintaining and disseminating this Code of Practice. If you have any questions about this Code of Practice or any of the principles set out herein, please contact Nick McGhee, Assistant Director (Governance and Secretariat), Academic Services, Student and Registry Services – tel: 020 3108 8217, internal extension: 58217.

The establishment and disestablishment of UCL formal committees requires the formal approval of UCL Council. All proposals to set up a UCL formal committee should be referred to the Academic Services officers (contact - Nick McGhee) in the first instance prior to submission to UCL Council for formal approval.

Definitions of formal committees and working groups

(1) A formal committee of UCL is a body formally established by UCL Council, which is authorised to take decisions according to prescribed terms of reference and/or delegated powers. Each formal committee of UCL (‘UCL committee’ hereinafter) should have a clear, unique and necessary function and be the decision-making locus for prescribed areas of business. Subject to (18) below, a UCL committee is authorised to take decisions according to its terms of reference/delegated powers. Since a ‘committee’ is, by this definition, capable of taking decisions, the term ‘executive committee’ is a tautology and need not be used.

(2) A working group is a body set up by a UCL committee in order to i) examine a particular issue or issues within a predetermined period, or for what is expected to be a finite period, and ii) submit a report thereon to that committee, and then be discharged by that committee.

Terms of reference; constitution and membership

(3) The terms of reference and delegated powers of a UCL committee and the reporting relationship of one committee to another should be simply and clearly prescribed. The terms of reference of each UCL committee should indicate explicitly a reporting line to a ‘senior’ UCL committee or committees (see also (15) below).

(4) A UCL committee’s constitution should normally indicate that the Chair is identified through her/his ex officio position on the committee or is appointed by the committee or by another senior body.

(5) While effective decision-making by UCL committees must be based on a strong grasp of relevant knowledge, the perspective of one or more disinterested outsiders – termed ‘external members’ – can increase a committee’s effectiveness.

(6) In order to encourage a balance between continuity of committee membership (with the steady growth in knowledge of a committee’s business which this implies) and the opportunity for regular fresh input, all UCL committees are normally required to make a case for any of their non-student members, other than ex officio members, to serve for more than six consecutive years except where the requirements of another relevant authority provide otherwise. Cases for the continued service of non-student committee members who have reached or exceeded six years’ service should be submitted to the Academic Services officers (contact – Nick McGhee).

(7) UCL is committed to creating equality of opportunity and promoting diversity. In line with this and in order to ensure that committee structures and processes take account of and are informed by a wide representation of views and perspectives, officers of UCL committees are encouraged to (i) take all reasonable steps to replace long-serving members or to fill impending casual vacancies with staff from under-represented groups, and (ii) confirm annually to the Academic Services officers that this consideration has been taken into account in reviewing the long-serving membership of committees.

(8) It is good practice for UCL committee officers to provide appropriate briefing for new staff, student and lay members on the work of the committee before these new members attend their first meeting.

Committee meetings

(9) UCL committees should not meet when there is insufficient business to justify their doing so.

(10) Reasonable scheduling of committee meetings is essential and needs to take account of the workload of (i) committee members and (ii) committee officers (ie Chairs, secretaries and key administrative or other officers who produce papers for the committee). There may sometimes be a tension between the demands of (i) and (ii): for example, while scheduling meetings of different committees in close proximity to each other may rationalise the ‘committee diary’ of committee members, it will tend to increase the pressure on committee officers to produce agenda papers and Minutes quickly.

(11) UCL Statutes 5(4) and 7(8) (and associated Regulations for Management) define a quorum for meetings of UCL Council and Academic Board respectively (ie 10 members of Council, including at least five external (‘Lay’) members, and 40 members of Academic Board). In the case of other UCL committees, a quorum should normally be not less than half of the total membership of the committee. A UCL committee wishing to vary the normal requirement for a quorum should submit a request for this variation to the Academic Services officers (contact - Nick McGhee).

(12) UCL Statutes 5(2) and 7(6) provide for a specified number of members to request the convening of a special meeting of UCL Council and Academic Board respectively. All UCL committees should operate a similar arrangement. Except where such an arrangement has already been prescribed by the committee, a special meeting of a committee may normally be requested by the same number of members of that committee as is required for a quorum - ie not less than half of the total membership.

(13) Committee membership is considered to be a non-transferable status. In light of this, it is not normal practice for committee members to nominate a delegate to represent them at a committee meeting in the event that they are not able to attend. The constitution of a committee may provide for eg a Dean or other senior UCL officer to nominate a colleague as their representative on the committee. It should be noted, however, that a ‘nominee’ in this context is a continuing member of the committee in place of the senior officer concerned.

(14) A number of UCL committees have administrative officers ‘in attendance’ at their meetings. Before setting up such arrangements, UCL committees should first consider whether there is a case for these officers becoming full members of the committee. In some cases, it may be essential for a particular administrative officer (or officers) always to be present at the meetings of the committee – but not appropriate for that officer to be a (decision-making) member of the committee. In other cases, it may be appropriate for the committee to advise officers that they are expected to be present at meetings only when there is discussion of business which the officers’ advice will usefully inform.

Reporting and operational arrangements

(15) ‘Reporting’ of one UCL committee to another should be defined and implemented as follows: the ‘junior’ committee (ie the reporting committee) has authority to take decisions according to its terms of reference/delegated powers; it need not refer such decisions to the ‘senior’ committee (ie the committee to which it reports) for formal ratification; but it must send its Minutes to the Chair and/or Secretary of the senior committee, who will determine which, if any, of the ‘junior’ committee’s decisions or other proceedings need be conveyed in writing to a meeting of the ‘senior’ committee. It is important that the Secretary of the ‘senior’ committee asks the Chair explicitly to confirm whether or not any of the ‘junior’ committee’s decisions or other proceedings should be brought to the attention of the ‘senior’ committee (so as to ensure that the responsibility for making this judgement is not placed on the Secretary alone). It should be noted that UCL committees are not formally designated ‘senior’ or ‘junior’; these terms are used here simply to illustrate the procedure whereby each committee has a reporting line to another committee or other committees.

(16) A ‘senior’ committee should always be empowered to ‘call in’ (ie review, refer or, if it deems appropriate, overturn) the decisions of the ‘junior’ committee. UCL Council, as UCL’s governing body, has the right to review the decision of any UCL committee and to refer any such decision for reconsideration by the committee concerned.

(17) UCL Statute 9 provides as follows:

‘Subject to the provisions of the Charter and Statute 6(5) the Chairs of the Council, the Academic Board and all Committees…of the College and its Faculties shall be empowered to take action on behalf of those bodies, in any matters being in their opinion either urgent (but not of sufficient importance to justify a Special Meeting of the appropriate body) or non-contentious. Such action shall be reported to the appropriate body at its next Meeting.’

The mechanism of Chair’s action, as defined in UCL Statute 9, may be utilised wherever it is judged appropriate by a UCL committee or its officers.

(18) At UCL, the following three categories of business for committee meetings are recognised:

  • Unrestricted or ‘open’ business;
  • Confidential business, ie business that is restricted to members of the committee only (see (21) below);
  • Confidential (Reserved) business, ie business that is restricted to members of the committee only except for student members (see (22) below).

As a general rule, as much committee business as possible should be unrestricted or open. UCL committees should decide which items of their business, if any, should be treated as confidential, and why.

(19) ‘Confidential business’ should generally be regarded as any sensitive items of business where disclosure would be likely to prejudice:

  • the personal safety of UCL staff and students
  • the security of UCL’s property
  • the commercial interests of UCL and its partners
  • Confidential relationships, both personal and commercial.

(The above examples relate to four of the 23 exemptions from disclosing information that are provided under the Freedom of Information Act (2000). For further information, please see http://www.ucl.ac.uk/foi/sensitive-information or contact the UCL Freedom of Information Officer (foi@ucl.ac.uk).

(20) ‘Confidential (Reserved) business’ is any business from which any student members of the committee are excluded when this is considered by the committee. This may include items of business which refer to individual staff by name (in the context of appointments, promotions, etc), in addition to items of business which refer to individual students by name (in the context of admissions, academic assessment, etc). According to UCL Statute 17(2), it is for the Chair to decide whether an item of business should be Reserved business.

(21) The workings of all UCL committees should be visible and their decision-making accountable (see also (17) above and (27) below). In designating any of their proceedings ‘Confidential business’ or ‘Confidential (Reserved) business’, UCL committees should use these definitions consistently – and only if they judge this absolutely necessary.

(22) Committee documents should be written in gender-neutral language – eg the term ‘Chair’, rather than ‘Chairman’, should always be used. Committee secretaries and other authors of committee documents should also bear in mind that committee documents will often have an audience beyond the immediate membership of the Committee and may be requested by external agencies and bodies under the Freedom of Information Act (2000).

(23) A committee can operate effectively only if its documents are produced in time for members to read them and give them proper consideration prior to the meeting. The finalised Agenda, as approved by the Chair, along with any accompanying papers, should be prepared for copying (where applicable) and distribution so that they reach members at least five working days prior to the meeting. The Committee Secretary should ensure that colleagues responsible for contributing papers for Agenda items are given sufficient notice of any deadlines for receipt of papers. There may, nevertheless, be occasions when papers are not received in time for circulation by the set deadline. In order to ensure that the bulk of the committee papers for the meeting are sent out on time, any late papers should be clearly marked “To follow” on the Agenda and circulated as soon as possible with an explanatory covering note or notice cross-referencing them to the relevant Agenda item. However, no papers should normally be circulated less than two working days (48 hours) before a meeting. In the event that a paper is received by the Committee Secretary less than two working days before the meeting, the paper must be accompanied by an explanation from the submitting officer of any exceptional grounds for allowing the paper to be forwarded to the Committee. The Committee Secretary will then ask the committee Chair to decide the matter.

(24) The signed Minutes of all UCL committees, with all papers issued with either the Agenda or the Minutes of the meeting and incorporating any amendments that have been agreed by the Committee, should be submitted to the UCL Records Office (contact - Robert Winckworth) for receipt not more than three working days after they have been confirmed by the committee and signed by the Chair. Members of UCL may request to inspect Minutes of UCL committees on request to the Records Office Manager (contact - Colin Penman).

(25) Minutes of UCL committees should also be stored online on UCL’s formal committees web pages, subject to appropriate restrictions on access to Minutes relating to ‘Confidential business’ and ‘Confidential (Reserved) business’. UCL committee secretaries must therefore ensure that (i) electronic versions of the unconfirmed Minutes of meetings are submitted to the Academic Services officers (contact - Nick McGhee) as soon as these have been approved by the Chair and (ii) they notify the Academic Services officers subsequently when these Minutes have been confirmed by the Committee at its next meeting, and in instances where amendments have been agreed, supply an electronic version to the Academic Services officers incorporating these amendments.

(26) In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (2000) and UCL’s associated Publication Scheme, the Academic Services officers have confirmed arrangements for making UCL committee Minutes available via UCL’s formal committees web pages. Further details of these arrangements are available on request to the Academic Services officers (contact - Nick McGhee) or from UCL’s Freedom of Information Officer (foi@ucl.ac.uk).

(27) Secretaries of UCL committees will normally be a member of staff of Academic Services, although in some instances the secretary may sometimes be a member of a UCL Professional Services division whose work is relevant to the remit of the Committee’s business. Where a committee’s business is not identifiable with a particular Professional Services division and servicing of the Committee does not form part of a prescribed job description, the Director of Academic Services should be consulted for advice on the arrangements to be made for servicing the Committee.

Training and further guidance

(28) Training in committee work can be helpful for committee secretaries. UCL’s Organisational and Staff Development Unit currently offers the following courses in this area:

  • Servicing meetings and committees (Introduction)

In addition, secretaries of UCL committees are encouraged to consult the Guidance on servicing UCL committees or to refer enquiries on any aspects of committee work to the Academic Services officers (contact - Nick McGhee).

Academic Services October 2016