National Union of Students
Good Governance Code of Practice:
Principles of Good Governance
Self Assessment Toolkit
Summary and Reports
Code of Practice Explained
Self Assessment Explained
Guidance for University Governing Bodies
Frequently Asked Questions
Glossary of Terms
1994 Education Act
An Act of Parliament which is legally binding. Section 22 specifically addresses the relationship between students' unions and education institutions
To be accountable is to be answerable to others. To be able to justify the decisions that are made if asked to do so.
A by-product of something which is of greater value to the students' union
Behaviour that proactively seeks to prevent discrimination occurring on the grounds of race, gender, sexuality, age or disability
Items of value owned by the students union
The independent process of checking to ensure that correct process have been followed by others
Board of Trustees
The ‘Board' is the collective term for the Trustees of a students' union. Trustees acting together as a ‘Board’ are the people who are ultimately legally responsible for the governance of the students' union.
New Trustees joining the Board that are able to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas.
Chair of the Board
The Trustee who take the lead in ensuring that Board functions effectively and efficiently
A decision made by the Chair, on behalf of the Board, outside of the usual delegated authority
‘Charitable Objects' is the term that the 'Charity Commission' uses to describe and identify the purpose for which the charity has been set up. A charity’s objects must be exclusively for the furtherance of the organisations 'charitable purpose'. They are usually set out in a single clause or paragraph of the students' union’s governing document.
There are a number of Charitable Purposes prescribed by the Charity Commission. The one which is most relevant to students' unions is 'the advancement of education'. All activities that a charity undertakes must be for the furtherance of its ‘Charitable Purpose’.
Clerk to the Board
The person whose job it is to support the functioning of the board, to ensure that Board meetings happen and are run efficiently and effectively. The Clerk also ensures that the Board operates within its powers and is on hand to provide advice and guidance about good governance.
Code of Conduct
Rules which set out how a group of people are expected to behave.
Activities that involve trading. Buying and selling goods and/or services to generate income.
Under Company Law, those people responsible for the Students' Union. This only applies to students' unions that are incorporated. Invariably the Company Directors will also be the Trustees.
Conduct of business
Agenda items discussed and informed decisions being made within Board Meetings.
Conflicts of interest
Something that might influence a person and prevent them from acting impartially or making decisions purely for the benefit of the students' union
Some things staying the same while other things change to provide consistency and stability. Continuity also helps to retain knowledge of what happened before change occurred. Staff and Lay Trustees are often able to provide continuity within students’ unions as they are not subject to the annual election cycle that applies to officers.
A term used in the 1994 Education Act which requires HE and FE Institutions to ensure that students, based on every university and/or college campus, have the opportunity to vote in the students' union elections
Delegation of Authority
Formally allowing other people to make specified decisions on behalf of the Board within an agreed framework.
Decision making power is vested in the students' union membership and exercised directly by them or by their elected representatives under a free electoral system and policy making process.
Conditions that have to be met in order to qualify
Employment status refers to whether or not a person has a paid job and the associated terms and conditions
Equality and Diversity
Treating people fairly and acknowledging that the differences between people should be recognised and valued, treating people as individuals, and placing positive value on diversity in the community and in the workforce.
Responsibility for property including buildings and their grounds.
Measure of how well the students' union is managing its money.
"the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organisation" (Governance of Public and Non-profit Organisation: what boards do? Cornforth, CJ (ed) - Routledge 2003)
The written guidance that acts as a kind of rule book that the students' union must adhere to. The most major of these is known as the Constitution, other governing documents such as the students' union 'Bylaws' supplement the Constitution and provide a greater level of detail.
Terms that must be upheld in order to receive funding. For example a grant condition might stipulate that funding should be spent on a particular piece of project work or that it should be used within a set time period.
Higher Education Institution
A university or college that delivers bachelors degree and post-graduate level qualifications.
The people who work for the students' unions are collectively the students’ unions 'human resources'.
Change that has been brought about as a result of the work that the students' union has undertaken. An Impact Report should illustrate how the students' union has changed the lives of others.
Process of providing support and training to enable somebody to acclimatise to their new working environment. To help them to understand what their role entails, how the students’ union operates and the policies and procedures that they need to follow.
A quicker or easier route that would result in an unfair advantage.
A document that outlines what a person's job entails including details of their key responsibilities.
A person who is recruited to serve as a Trustee on the Board because of their specialist knowledge, experience or expertise. Sometimes known as an 'External Trustee'
Working within the Law of the land
Something that the Law states you must do. You cannot choose not to do this without breaking the law.
The membership will be defined in the students' union’s governing document. The membership is invariably the students' that are enrolled at the University or College that is attached to the students' union. Students are automatically members of their students’ unions unless they decide to opt out.
Written declaration of a students' unions core purpose and focus. The mission outlines what the students’ unions will do in order to work towards achieving their vision
“The Seven Principles of Public Life” devised by Lord Nolan, which include Selflessness , Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty, Leadership
Nominations Committees are set up to focus on work that relates to the election processes within a students' union
A document that sets out the work that the students' union intends to undertake within a particular period of time, it should demonstrate how the day-to-day work of the students union, will help the organisation to achieve its longer term Strategic Plan.
Day-to-day work undertaken by the students' union
How well the students' union is achieving against its operational and strategic plan
Out of Pocket
A term that describes additional costs that are incurred by a person as a result of undertaking the role of Trustee, for example the cost of travelling to attend Board meetings.
Maintaining a high level view of what's happening within the students' union
The process of setting out clear expectations as to what a person needs to achieve and monitoring their progress against agreed targets.
A document that outlines the experience, skills, attributes and attitudes that are required in order to undertake a particular role.
Written guidelines which sets out the official position that a students' union has taken on a particular issue. Once a policy has been set, then the students' union must work in line with its direction, until it expires or is formally changed.
Personal gain of financial value as a result of their involvement with the students’ union.
Step by step process of how something should be done. A procedure will often accompany a policy and will set out how the policy should be applied in practice
Improving a person’s ability to undertake their current job and supporting them to gain skills that will help their future career prospects.
A set of specific, concise statements that act as markers of agreed good practice. Quality standards are often accompanied with a kite mark that is awarded to signify achievement in accordance with the standards.
The specified number of Trustees that are required to be present in order for decision making to take place.
Removal of a Trustee
Discontinuing a person's role as a member of the Board. Taking away a person’s responsibility for the governance of the students’ union and their right to partake in Board decision making.
Payment given to employees in return for their work
Return on investment
The benefits that are recouped as a result of providing the students' union with resources such as time or money.
The person who is responsible for overseeing the election process and ensuring that it is fair.
The process of actively identifying risks and taking steps to try to mitigate them
Log of identified risks and taking steps to mitigate them.
Students' that are elected annually by their student membership to lead the students' union.
An agreed way of finding the right candidate for a particular job, it might include an application form, short-listing and an interview. Candidates must be given equal opportunity to apply and the process must be fair.
Senior Staff Member
A generic term for Chief Executive Officer, General Manager or whomsoever is the person employed to lead the staff employed by the students’ union.
Servicing the Board
Support provided to the Board to help it to function effectively and efficiently.
People who have a vested interest in the work of the students' union, for example the student members, employed staff and the university or college attached to the students’ union.
Taking a long term view and considering the big picture.
A course of action that leads to the achievement of the students' union strategy
The provision for the development, replacement and strategic application of key people in the students' union. Taking a proactive approach to ensuring continuing leadership by cultivating talent from within the organization through planned development activities.
Thinking ahead and ensuring the organisation is prepared for the departure of senior people within the organisation including Trustees and senior managers.
To oversee the work of another and to provide support and guidance where required.
A term used to describe organisations which are not part of the state or privately owned. It includes charities, voluntary sector organisations and community groups. Students' unions are part of the Third Sector.
A person who is a member of the 'Board' and is responsible for working together with the other Board members to collectively govern the students' union.
Something that it likely to cause significant harm, judged to outweigh the potential benefits.
Shared principles that have overarching importance to the students' union and their members. They should inform decision making throughout the organisation and should be embedded in the students’ union’s strategic plan.
The Trustee that takes responsibility for providing support to the Chair of the Board and deputises for the Chair in their absence.
A short statement which is aspirational and describes what the students' union is ultimately striving to achieve.