Understanding University Governance

Overview of the University Governance Series


The LH Martin Institute has a suite of professional development programs focused on University Governance that are offered as flexible delivery public and bespoke programs.  These programs have been developed following feedback from the University Chancellors’ Council, and from individual Vice-Chancellors and University Secretaries about the specific needs of university council groups.  Overseen by a Steering Committee composed of sector representatives, the LH Martin Institute partnered with Professor Geoff Keil from the Effective Governance consulting group to develop our suite of contextualised programs on Effective University Governance.


The first program of this suite, Understanding University Governance, was piloted at James Cook University in early 2013. With some modifications, it has since been offered in partnership with the Effective Governance consulting group as a public program for the sector.  Bespoke versions have been delivered for the Queensland University of Technology, the University of Tasmania, the University of New England, and the University of the South Pacific.  From 2016 onwards the LH Martin Institute is the sole owner of the program materials, and will continue to deliver the program.


The University Governance suite of programs aims to provide members of university governing bodies and those involved in governance with an enhanced understanding of their role and relationships in order to improve the performance of their university. Each workshop focuses on a different aspect of governance, and can be tailored to the needs of your institution.


Understanding University Governance

Program content

This program provides a comprehensive introduction to contemporary thinking on university governance.  It is built around five selected governance topics, preceded by an introduction on current trends and issues in Australian higher education:

  • The legal framework of university governance.
  • Council roles and functions.
  • Effective governance processes.
  • Council behaviours and continuous improvement.
  • What is corporate governance?

As such the program reflects our philosophy of expert facilitation of experiential peer-to-peer learning A comprehensive set of notes addressing each of the topics is provided as pre-reading. In addition, an integrated set of mini case studies and simulations is used on the day to allow participants to discuss the application of the governance concepts.


The program consists of four sessions, each approximately 60 minutes long and based on the five topics above. Each session will comprise of an interactive discussion of the key concepts, group work on a case study or simulation, class discussion of the case study or simulation and the opportunity to raise questions.


Program delivery


This program can be delivered as a tailored program for individual institutions or for a group of institutions based in the same city or state.


Learning objectives


Upon completion, participants will have the capacity to be more effective council members, through having developed an understanding of:

  • The nature and importance of behavioural dynamics inside and outside the council chamber
  • That personal skills and competencies can directly improve the performance of a university council
  • The framework of relationships present in a typical council.


In particular, aspiring and existing council members will gain a better understanding of the appropriate behaviours for council members and how they can contribute to an effective council.  Ex-officio members of the council and council professionals will be aware of the crucial role that healthy interpersonal relationships play in the delivery of effective university governance.

Who should attend?

  • Ex-officio members of council (Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Chair of the Academic Board).
  • New or recent members of council, including external and internal members and new or recent Chairs of council committees.
  • University governance professionals, including University Secretaries, Secretaries to Council and Heads of Secretariats.
  • Senior university executive staff.
  • Senior academic staff who require or will require a knowledge of university governance as part of their current or future roles.

Effective University Councils


Program content


This half day workshop provides a comprehensive introduction to contemporary thinking on university governance.  It is built around the topics listed below:

  • Principles of governance
  • Council responsibilities and accountability
  • Organisational values
  • Council’s role in setting the university’s strategy
  • Risks for the Council
  • Financial management in the university context
  • Stakeholder relationships and communication
  • Role of committees and the Academic Board
  • Induction, mentoring and succession planning
  • Council self-evaluation

Program delivery


Participants will be provided with readings and assigned tasks to be completed prior to attendance. The program will provide learning through guided discussion of case study materials across three 80 minute sessions (total 4 hours to the half day). It will also introduce research evidence relating to the role and performance of academic boards in Australian universities.


Learning objectives


Upon completion, participants will have the capacity to be more effective council members, through having developed an understanding of:

  • the nature and importance of behavioural dynamics inside and outside the council chamber
  • that personal skills and competencies can directly improve the performance of a university council
  • the framework of relationships present in a typical council.


In particular, aspiring and existing council members will gain a better understanding of the appropriate behaviours for council members and how they can contribute to an effective council. Ex-officio members of the council and council professionals will be aware of the crucial role that healthy interpersonal relationships play in the delivery of effective university governance.

Who should attend?

  • Ex-officio members of the council ( the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, the Chair of the Academic Board)
  • Aspirant, new or near-new members of a university council (including external and internal members and new or near-new Chairs of Committees of a council)
  • Experienced council members wishing to refresh and develop their professional skills
  • University governance professionals (including University Secretaries, Secretaries to Council and Heads of Secretariats)
  • Senior executive staff
  • Senior academic staff who require or will require a knowledge of university governance as part of their current or future roles


Academic Governance in the New Regulatory Environment


Program content and format


This half-day workshop examines the role and relevance of academic boards in the overall context of university governance. It is built around the topics listed below:

  • The role of an academic board.
  • The operational and legislative framework of academic boards.
  • The relationship of an academic board with a university council and a university executive.
  • The effectiveness of academic boards and of chairs of an academic board.
  • The future of the academic board in the 21st century.

Participants will be provided with readings and assigned tasks to be completed prior to attendance. The program will provide learning through guided discussion of case study materials across three 80 minute sessions (total 4 hours to the half day). It will also introduce research evidence relating to the role and performance of academic boards in Australian universities.


Program delivery

This program can be delivered as a tailored program for individual institutions or for a group of institutions based in the same city or state.


Learning objectives

Upon completion of this program, participants will be able to:

  • Refer knowledgeably to the range of structures and practices that apply to the operation of academic boards across the Australian higher education system,
  • Distinguish clearly between the role of an academic board and the role of a university council,
  • Identify a range of mechanisms for evaluating the effectiveness of an academic board and for assessing the leadership provided by the chair of an academic board, and
  • Comment in an informed way on policy trends impacting on the role and importance of academic boards in the Australian higher education system in the 21st century.

Overall, the program will contribute to a better understanding of the role of the academic board. It will also enable participants to obtain insights into the challenges facing academic boards, and into the ways in which different academic boards are addressing these challenges.

Who should attend?

  • Ex-officio members of the council (the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, the Chair of the Academic Board).
  • New or recent members of a university council (including external and internal members and new or near-new Chairs of Committees of a council).
  • University governance professionals (including University Secretaries, Secretaries to Council and Heads of Secretariats).
  • Senior executive staff.
  • Senior academic staff who require or will require a knowledge of university governance as part of their current or future roles.

Please direct enquiries about this program to martin-institute@unimelb.edu.au or call +61 3 8344 0756.

This program can be delivered as a bespoke program for groups of universities within the same city or state. Contact us to discuss delivery for your institution(s).