Charity Trustee responsibilities

The University is a registered educational charitable body which falls within the scope of the Charities and Trustees Investment Scotland Act 2005 and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator.  Members of the Court therefore carry responsibilities as the Charity Trustees.  Further information about the responsibilities of Charity Trustees are set out in Chapter 9 of the Act. The Act also explains the circumstances in which individuals would be disqualified from becoming a Charity Trustee.

Values and conduct

All governing bodies should take the lead in establishing and promoting the values for the organisations that they govern.  This means that each member of the governing body is expected to lead by example and demonstrate, on a personal level, the highest standards of conduct.

Heriot-Watt University Court conducts its business in accordance with governance best practice and with the ‘Principles of Public Life’. These should be at the forefront of Court and Court committee members’ thoughts. The Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance sets out the Scottish Government’s nine principles of public life: Duty; Selflessness;  Integrity; Objectivity; Accountability and Stewardship; Openness; Honesty; Leadership; and Respect.

As implied by the Court Statement of Primary Responsibilities the role of Court member involves a significant level of responsibility and personal commitment.

Members of the Court are expected to:

  1. make a positive and enthusiastic contribution to the development of University Vision, Mission and Strategy;
  2. review the University’s financial and other performance, monitoring and ensuring the robustness and transparency of the required financial controls, governance and assurance systems;
  3. be ambitious for the University, and to act in its best interests;
  4. as a governor, be a critical friend and advocate of the University;
  5. challenge and to debate constructively and contribute to the effectiveness of the Court and any Court committee they serve as part of a cohesive group with collective responsibilities;
  6. analyse complex issues and apply strategic and analytical approaches to the collective decision making process;
  7. recognise and respect the balance and interactions between governance and executive management functions;
  8. support equality and diversity;
  9. seek to advance their knowledge and understanding of the complex and changing higher education environment, nationally and internationally; and
  10. participate in the life of the University more widely, for example, by attending graduation ceremonies, or other key events in the University calendar.

Members of the Court and its Committees are expected at all times to act in the best interests of the University.  These expectations are set out in the University’s Ethical Business: Conflict of Interest Policy for Court and Court committee members.

In return for the personal commitment made by members of the Court and its committees, there are significant benefits. The opportunity will be attractive to individuals who value the experience of working alongside other forward-thinking people and who are keen to share in the particular satisfaction and sense of pride in securing the University’s future success that being a Court or Court committee member brings.

The Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance

The University is committed to achieving full compliance with the newly revised Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance.

Time commitment

The Court holds meetings four times each year throughout the period from late September to late June. In addition there are two full strategy / performance discussion days scheduled in May and November each year.  Occasionally an extra meeting of the Court may be called in order to deal with any urgent item of business which cannot wait until the next scheduled meeting.  The schedule of meetings from 2018 is currently under review, with the possibility of an additional meeting being included in the annual schedule. Court meetings are held on a Friday with the exception of the June meeting, which is normally scheduled on a Monday.

The University expects Court and Court committee members to take time to prepare in advance of meetings and to familiarise themselves with governance good practice, the life and work of the University and the higher education sector in general.

It is expected that individuals who are appointed as members of the Court will also be prepared to serve on a committee of the Court if they are invited to do so.  The necessary time commitment could therefore extend to at least 12 days per year (based on membership of the Court and one Court committee).

In addition, Court dinner meetings are normally held on the (Thursday) evening before each Court meeting.  These involve themed discussions aimed at increasing Court members’ understanding of topical areas of interest to the University and providing Court members with the opportunity to contribute their view to any developing University policy or strategy. Court members are expected to attend dinner meetings regularly.

It is essential that each member is able to maintain a high level of attendance at meetings. The Court’s Attendance and Participation Policy applies to Court and Court Committee members.

Court and Court committee member induction and development

New members of Court and Court committees are provided with an induction programme and further opportunities to learn more about the University and their roles as Court and Court committee members. Induction training and development are provided through a mixture of in-house and external opportunities. Funds are made available when required, for example, to enable members to attend governor development programme seminars provided by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.

All Court and Court committee members are expected to take personal responsibility for keeping their knowledge updated throughout the period of their membership and to be concerned for their own development needs in relation to their role.


No remuneration is attached to the role of Court committee or Court member, therefore this opportunity will be attractive to exceptional individuals who will value the experience of working alongside other forward-thinking individuals and sharing in the satisfaction and sense of pride associated with contributions to the University’s future success. All reasonable out of pocket expenses can be reimbursed to members by arrangement. Reimbursements will be made in accordance with the University’s Travel and Expenses Policy.

Further advice

The Secretary of the University is secretary to the Court and is available to provide advice to existing and potential future members of Court and its committees. Contact: Ann Marie Dalton-Pillay, Secretary of the University, Tel: 0131 451 3690 (

For more general advice about the work of the Court and its committees, contact may be made with the Secretariat: Contact: Lorna Kirkwood-Smith, Head of the Secretariat, Tel 0131 451 3631 (

The Ethical Business: Conflict of Interest Policy for Governors sets out particular responsibilities of governors as ‘Trustees’ and their obligation to avoid conflict of interest situations.

Key documents and further information