Elections for the new Senior Lay Member of the University Court are taking place today, Thursday 24, and tomorrow, Friday 25 November. All staff and students of the University of St Andrews are eligible to vote in this election, following open meetings on Monday 21 November.
It is a requirement under the Higher Education Scotland (Governance) Act of 2016 that all Higher Education institutions have a Senior Lay Member on their Governing Body. This member must be appointed by a first-past-the-post election.
The role of the Senior Lay Member is to oversee Court meetings when the Rector is unavailable and to chair items of business concerned with policy, resources, accountability, and performance review. In addition to this, the Senior Lay Member is expected to undertake the duties normally associated with a chairperson.
The University Court is the senior governing body of the University, made up of 25 members, including 12 lay members and is comparable to any other organisation's board of directors. The responsibilities of the Court include overseeing all aspects of the University’s operations as well as devising a directional approach to guide the future of the university.
Not only is Court charged with holding senior management of the University to account, but is also constitutes an important part of wider University culture. All members of university staff are employed by Court, and comprises various committees which cover areas from health and safety to staff remuneration. Led by the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Dame Sally Mapstone, Court meets four times a year and the minutes of these meetings are published on the University Website.
According to the University website, the responsibilities of the Senior Lay Member, who will be a charitable trustee, fall under the leadership and effectiveness of Court, in order to ensure “an appropriate balance of authority and senior management”. More specifically, they will oversee fulfilment of Court’s aims in an effective and correct fashion, chair meetings of Court, and where requested or necessitated by the absence of the Rector, preside over them. Moreover, the Senior Lay Member is required to review the Principal’s performance, and serve as a University representative for various external bodies: the Committee of University Chairs (CUC), the Committee of Scottish Chairs (Higher Education Institutions) as well as the Scottish Funding Council when required.
There are a number of criteria which candidates must meet before they may stand to be elected, such as extensive leadership experience within organisations similar or larger in size to the University, and a strong commitment to higher education. As such, there are three candidates for Senior Lay Member: Sir Martin Davidson, Alison Johns and Ray Perman.
Sir Davidson is a graduate of the University, with experience working for the Hong Kong government and was posted to Beijing by the British Council. He eventually served as CEO of the British Council from 2007-2014, has advised various boards, both small and commercial, and has served as a trustee for charities such as United Purpose. In addition to this, he serves as Vice-Chair of the Royal National Institute of Blind People. He hopes to be elected on the promise of helping the University to alleviate hardship, strive for equality and inclusivity and ensuring the provision of equal opportunities.
Ms Johns is the CEO of AdvanceHE, a charity working to promote excellence in higher education, having led the merger of three pre-existing bodies to create the UK-wide body. Prior to her career in Higher Education, Ms Johns has worked as a civil servant, business owner and consultant and has advised various government ministries on Higher Education reform in countries such as Australia, Uzbekistan, and India. She is the only person to hold both Chair and President at the Association of University Administrators. She hopes to be elected on the promise of striving for an inclusive culture, providing sufficient support whilst simultaneously challenging the University to reach it’s potential, and taking an active and visible role within university life.
Mr Perman was a journalist for publications such as The Times and founded Insider Publications LTD in 1983. He has since gone on to the chair various organisations such as the James Hutton Institute, the Access to Finance Expert Group, and formerly, the court of Heriot Watt University. He is also a trustee of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland, has authored four books, and was a member of the board of Scottish Enterprise from 2004-2009. He hopes to be elected on the promise of helping students and staff through the cost of living crisis, accelerating the Net Zero policy, and improving diversity and inclusion across the university. He also hopes to support the Rector in achieving her goals as well as improving student support — something he has first hand experience with having left St Andrews halfway through his undergraduate degree.
The result of the election will be announced Monday 28 November, and more information can be found on the university website.