The role and influence of the secretary in relation to governing bodies in Higher Education

  • David George Llewellyn

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Business (DBA)


The role and influence of the secretary of the governing body have been overlooked in contemporary research on UK higher education governance. Despite occasional investigations of the contribution of the secretary to governance structures, little is known about the working relationships of the secretary with other key players in higher education governance and the way in which they impact upon the effectiveness of the governing body. This study considered, through the lens of the secretary, but with contributions from chairs and heads of institutions, whether the part played by the governing body secretary in the ‘doing’ of governing had been underestimated, and how this role was undertaken. A multi-method research strategy was adopted, in which a conceptual understanding of the place of the secretary within the governance system and a micro-process analysis of the secretary’s role were developed, to inform the way in which quantitative (survey) and qualitative (interview) data could be gathered from across the UK higher education sector. The research identified evidence of a triadic network (Simmel, 1950; Krackhardt, 1999) in which distinctive areas of influence had been adopted by the three key players in the governance system. There were, however, differences in the perceptions of influence between the secretary and the head of institution in some areas of governance practice, highlighting tensions that could ultimately affect governance performance. The research also identified an apparent cluster grouping of the survey population that suggested that the use of conventional typologies (eg pre-or post-’92 universities) to describe an institution’s approach to governance needs to be reconsidered. Finally, a number of recommendations for governance practice, and areas for further research, emerged from the study, in support of the conclusion that there should be a greater recognition of this critical role in the effective governance of the UK higher education sector.
Date of Award1 Jun 2007
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorAnnie Pye (Supervisor)

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