Heriot-Watt University is overseen and governed by a number of key personnel, boards and committees.
The University is established by Royal Charter that is approved by His Majesty the King. The Royal Charter has several stipulations, including to establish the Court, the Senate and the posts of senior officers of the University: the Principal, Vice-Principal and Secretary.
The other governing document is the Statutes, which prescribes in greater detail the governance requirements.
In summary, there are three principal elements to the governance of the University: the Court, the Principal and Vice-Chancellor, and the Senate.
The Court is the governing body of the University, which is ultimately responsible for oversight of the affairs of the University, and, among other responsibilities, sets and approves the University's strategic direction, vision and mission. The Court abides by the principles of the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance, which stipulate that in discharging its responsibilities the Court shall:
- ensure the institution's long-term sustainability;
- conduct its affairs according to specified ethical standards;
- have due regard to the interests of its stakeholders and the wider public;
- determine the institution's future direction and set the institutional values;
- ensure the protection of the academic freedom of relevant staff in compliance with relevant legislation and its own governing instruments;
- ensure that it observes good practice in regard to equality and diversity;
- foster a suitable environment whereby knowledge may be advanced and the potential of learners fulfilled; and
- take all final decisions on matters of fundamental concern to the institution.
The Ordinances and Regulations Committee is a joint committee of the Court and the Senate, who advise both and make appropriate recommendations on matters related to:
- the Ordinances and Regulations;
- the review of the Charter, Statutes, Ordinances and Regulations of the University; and
- changes to the Court and the Senate.
The Court delegates to the Senate the crucial role of safeguarding the academic standards of the University in relation to research and learning and teaching , and to grant awards of the University. The Senate is the primary academic forum of the University and has an important role in the development and monitoring of academic strategy. The Senate is supported in discharging its responsibilities by academic committees.
The Principal and Vice-Chancellor
The Court delegates to the Principal wide-ranging powers, including those required as chief executive and chief accounting officer to be 'responsible for the effective working, management and good order of the University' .
Subject to the authority of the Court, all executive powers are derived from the Principal and all academic committees' powers are derived from the Senate. None may act outside the powers vested in them through the Charter and Statutes of the University.
The Principal is also Chair of the Senate and ensures that the Senate is formally involved in the development and monitoring of academic strategy.
The Principal retains ultimate executive responsibility for proposing the Strategic Plan and budget to the Court and remains accountable for their implementation.
The University Executive
The powers of the University Executive (UE), which is chaired by the Principal, are derived from the executive powers of the Principal and are therefore separate from the authority of the Senate.
 The duties and composition of the Senate are laid out in Statute 5.
 See Section 7 of Ordinance B6.