These notes provide guidance on servicing formal meetings for committees which are part of the formal governance structure of the University, including Boards of Studies and their sub-committees:
- Central committees
- Committee structure
- Faculty structure chart -templates for agenda, reports, and minutes for Senate and its committees
The Governance Office is able to arrange bespoke training for individuals / small groups to enable staff to effectively and confidently fulfil their roles. For further information and guidance please email email@example.com
- 'Just a Minute? A guide to Committee Servicing' by Jean Grear, AUA Good Practice Series
- 'A guide for New Clerks and Secretaries of Governing Bodies of Higher Education Institutions in the UK', Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, by Allan Schofield (editor) et al, November 2012
- 'Effective Minute Taking' by Rob Robson, Archana Singh Karki, Philip Davis, ISBN:9781860725463
Definition of terms
Committees are a key part of the decision-making process of an organisation. They enable a group of individuals to meet, discuss issues, share information, achieve consensus, make collective decisions, or refer recommendations to a superior body. Minutes from the official institutional record of the key decisions and discussions; they are read by a variety of people external to the board/committee.
Terms of reference
Terms of reference set out the purpose of the committee, which superior (parent) committee it reports to, and if any sub-committees report to it. See the relevant web pages for specific committee terms of reference. These cannot be changed by the committee itself, but only the superior committee.
The composition of the committee sets out who is a member of the committee, and who is 'in attendance' (i.e. present by may not vote). The composition may also allow for 'co-opted' members who may have specialist knowledge and are normally appointed for a year at a time. The composition cannot be changed except by the superior committee.
This is the minimum number of members of a committee needed in order to legitimately make decisions or take actions on items (normally a third of Senate and its sub-committees, including Boards of Studies, FLTQCs etc). Sometimes the number is specified to include a particular type of response: e.g. external examiners in Boards of Examiners for Programmes.
These are the rules governing the conduct of meetings. Not all committees will have standing orders. If no specific standing orders exist for a committee which ultimately reports to Senate, use those of Senate.
Role of the committee secretary
The committee secretary is responsible for servicing a formal committee and:
- ensuring the meetings are effectively organised
- ensuring the effective flow of business between committees
- providing information and data, or obtaining it from others
- ensuring actions are assigned by the committee to appropriate individuals
- upholding the requirements of governing documents; advising the Chair
- recording information, preparing and maintaining accurate records and minutes
A committee secretary is not:
- a passive recipient and dispatcher of papers
- passive if a committee acts either beneath or above its powers, misinterprets regulation or policy, or circumvents proper decision-making powers
- just a record-keeper
There is a subsidiary role sometimes referred to as 'minute secretary' which has less responsibility and involves taking notes at the meeting and drafting the minutes and getting them agreed, without the overall responsibility for the whole committee function.
General preparation for supporting a committee
- Understand the terms of reference to know what the committee is authorised to do and where it reports to.
- Ensure that all members are appointed correctly and know their formal position e.g. as a full member or in attendance.
- Check the formal composition (which may stipulate that some members should only be for three years, for example) and hold elections if required; if someone leaves before the end of their term-of-office, this creates a 'casual vacancy' which should be filled for the remainder of the term.
- Arrange the meeting dates for the year and let the members know (some committees are organised centrally by the Secretariat).
- Draw up a Calendar of Business for future topics which can be anticipated.
- Check the quoracy rule.
- If new to the role, read the minutes of several previous meetings to understand the business and anticipate issues.
- Meet with the Chair about how meetings are to be conducted and what role the Secretary serves.
- Hold the necessary information about the committee.
Preparation for a meeting
- Make all the practical arrangements: room booking/refreshments/AV/special needs requirements.
- Ensure there will be enough seats for everyone, and check how to adjust the room temperature.
- Follow up on previous actions in advance of the meeting and any matters arising.
- Ask members in advance if they have any items for discussion.
- Ask for and prepare a list of apologies.
- In advance, plan time after the meeting to write the minutes.
- Read the papers; be prepared.
- Have a pre-meeting with the Chair to brief them on key issues.
Preparing an agenda
- Use the template to draft the agenda, including standard items.
- Use the Calendar of Business for items depending on the cycle of business in the year.
- Review the previous minutes to identify items.
- In conjunction with the chair, identify current internal and external developments for inclusion.
- For Senior committees, identify any policy areas for consideration based on the terms of reference, if appropriate.
- Put the items in a logical order.
- Ensure that it is clear on the agenda if items are for decision, recommendation upwards, or just for information (check the terms of reference to identify exactly what power the committee has).
- Include Reserved area business on a separate agenda (or pink paper).
- Meet the Chair to agree the agenda.
- Provide an annotated agenda or briefing notes for the chair (not all members) to give more detail of items and background information; you may need to ask others for this information.
- Note if it is the first or last meeting for any members.
- Most reports will be written by other colleagues; agree a deadline with them, and ensure the reports are approved by the appropriate manager, chase them as required.
- Ask colleagues to use the report template and keep the main body of their report to a maximum of about four pages (appendices can in addition to this).
- Ask colleagues to include an Executive Summary if the main part of the report is more than a page long.
- Number the reports and appendices.
- Check the draft reports for typos, formatting and page numbering.
- Add the date at the end along with the name, job title, email and telephone number of the person who wrote the report.
Sending out papers
- Papers should be sent out a week in advance of the meeting, or at least three days in advance as a minimum
- It is not good practice to allow papers to be tabled at the meeting and this should only be done in unavoidable circumstances and with the approval of the Chair; committee members will not have had time to read the report and this leads to poor decision-making
- Print reserved area reports on pink paper
Papers are normally sent out in hard copy for central committees - if a suggestion is made for electronic circulation of papers, consider the following:
- Accessibility - has everyone got access to a laptop/iPad
- How would electronic version be kept secure, if necessary
- Hard copies will still be necessary for the Chair and Secretary and for archiving
- Members may still print off papers for themselves separately on laser-printers and this may cost the University more overall in printing and staff time than central photocopying
Decision Time: Online committee system
Decision Time is an online platform for managing committee and board papers. It was trialled by a small group of committee secretaries during the 2022/23 Academic Year and is available for use across the University from January 2023.
Access Decision Time
All sub-committees and boards of Senate, Council and the University Executive Board are set up in Decision Time. If you are the secretary of one of these but do not have access, please contact the Governance Team.
Guidance for members/general users and separate notes for administrators (committee secretaries) can be found in the system.
Queries and initial support
Send any queries to your committee secretary or to the Governance Team, who will respond. If your query is related to the infrastructure behind Decision Time send any queries to Computing Services.
If you are thinking of buying a tablet, please consult your Computing Services contact.
At the meeting
- Sit next to (or near) the Chair.
- Note who is present, or have a signing-in sheet.
- Take the terms of reference, papers of the previous meeting, a spare set of papers, and a notepad and spare pens.
- Ensure any new people are welcomed.
- Ensure the previous minutes are signed.
- Ensure all items are covered, and assist the Chair in keeping the meeting to time.
- Write full notes (even though you will not need to include everything in the final minutes) and ensure you record the key points.
- If it is not clear what was decided, ask the Chair to confirm any decision before moving on; include the date of implementation of any decision which does not take immediate effect.
- Advise the Chair as required if the committee is not within its powers.
- Be aware if some members have to leave the room for reserved business items (e.g. student members).
You are responsible for writing the minutes of the meeting.
Read about how to write minutes for formal committee meetings.
Confidentiality and reserved business
Council guidance agreed to 20018 states: Reserved area business (the pink section of the agenda) is confidential and may not be divulged to anyone else. Reserved area business is currently defined in the Statutes of the University as concerning decisions upon:
- the appointment, promotion and other matters affecting the personal affairs of individual members of the Staff of the University
- on the admission, academic assessment and other matters affecting the personal affairs of individual students of the University
- on proposal for honorary degrees
Business is separated into open/public information and reserved area business, with the latter not being routinely published by the University. Requests for information contained in committee business can be made by the public via the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Requests are considered on a case by case basis by the University's Freedom of Information Officers. Members are free to discuss public/open items with non-members but must be mindful of the sensitive nature of the reserved business. If a member considers it necessary to discuss reserved business items with non-members, it must be in a general way and in confidence. If not self-evident, the originators of reserved business items will make clear any information, which is particularly sensitive or must be regarded as confidential. The minutes of open/public business are published on the website of the University after they have been confirmed by the Chair.
Guidance on the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
Publishing reports and minutes
- Once committee minutes have been agreed by the Chair, they can be circulated to members of the committee
- 'Reserved area business' minutes should be printed on pink paper, the rest on white
Minutes of certain committees (open section only) are published more widely under the University's publication scheme
- Reserved area minutes are only for members of the committee, except student members who do not receive these
- 'Restricted' covers information which the University does not routinely publish
Do not publish on the web any minutes for committees for which all business is reserved area business
Minutes from the last three years should be available on the web
Retention of committee papers
- Guidance on timescales for retention of papers
- Some key committee documents are held centrally in the university archive - contact the Records Manager & Archivist, Lizzie Richmond, for further information
After the meeting
- Communicate committee decision/actions to relevant colleagues specifically, individually and as quickly as is possible (do not wait to finish the minutes).
- Draft the minutes for the Chair to approved ideally within four working days so the Chair will remember the discussion when they check them (or check your faculty guidance for local deadlines).
- Forward reports and/or recommendations to the superior committee.
- Feedback a key summary on the web or in an email to relevant staff more generally, if the Chair agrees.
- Ensure agreed actions are carried out in the timescale agreed - remind colleagues.
- File minutes, reports and any correspondence.
Boards of examiners
Secretaries servicing Boards of Examiners should seek guidance from their faculty/school assistant registrar. Important updates on quoracy and other aspects of the conduct of Boards of Examiners for the current academic year.
Formal servicing is not required for informal meetings or ad-hoc groups or project teams. If a member of staff is asked by the Chair of such a group for support, they are advised to discuss with their line manager the nature of servicing which will be appropriate.
Basic terms of reference should be drawn up to set out the purpose of the group, along with the membership. Agendas are recommended for meetings to focus discussion, along with some form of record, although bullet points or action points may be all that is necessary.
Role of the chair
The key roles of the Chair of the committee are:
- Having knowledge of the business of the committee
- Approving the agenda
- Managing the meeting: keeping to the agenda, keeping the meeting to time
- Ensuring all members have a chance to contribute, especially for example, inviting comments from student members
- Ensuring decisions are reached
- Approving the draft minutes
- Representing the committee at other committees
- Appointing members, if required
- Taking follow-up action after the meeting
- Taking 'Chair action': decisions between meetings, if this is delegated by the committee to the Chair under Urgent Business procedures
- Some committees (such as Senate and Council) have formal Schemes of Delegation, which set out specific powers of the Chair or specified officers
Health and Safety guidance
- In advance, find out if a fire alarm test is planned for the day of the meeting so you can let the committee members know at the start of the meeting
- Before the meeting starts, familiarise yourself with the fire exits from the meeting room
- If there is no phone in the room, and you don't have a mobile phone, make sure you know where the nearest phone is.
- If first aid is required during a meeting, or there is any other emergency, dial 666 (internal) or 01225 383999 (from a mobile) and security will organise for a First Aider or any necessary emergency services - they will meet the services and direct them to the room, otherwise, paramedics or fire officers may get lost on campus
- Should the fire alarm sound, encourage everyone to leave the room by the nearest exit - follow the instructions in the room
- If you know you have a committee member with mobility problems or a physical disability that will limit their ability to leave the building quickly, ensure a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) is developed in advance - staff should already have one
- In emergency, if a visitor is unable to negotiate the stairs and there is no PEEP, escort them into an adjacent building and use a lift to evacuate them to a lower level if necessary - if this is not possible, then escort the visitor to a refuge point by a lift and report their location to Security and/or the emergency services
- Do not put yourself in danger
Useful phone numbers: