A move to membership based on salary would also make more support staff eligible to participate in the Regent HouseLouis Ashworth

The University Council’s Governance Review Working Group has recommended a reform to the membership of the Regent House, making eligibility based on salary grade rather than job title.

The Regent House is a “legislative and deliberative body” representing University staff. It elects members of the Council, which is the University’s executive body, and can vote on Council decisions.

The recommendations were made in a report published on 4th March. The report notes that under the current rules “the logic of the membership has also been lost, with some classes of staff included but apparently related groups excluded”.

A move to membership based on salary would also make more support staff eligible to participate in the Regent House.

In its report on the proposed reforms, the Council identifies Regent House members as “those who are most able to take an objective, long-term view on what is in the best interests of the University in serving its mission”. The report suggests that members should be able “to make disinterested decisions”, and “appreciate the importance of teaching and research to the University’s endeavours”.

Membership of the Regent House has been changed several times since its establishment in 1926, most recently by removing an upper age limit for members in November 2020. The University of Oxford already operates grade-based criteria for its governing body, Congregation.

Under the current rules, membership of the Regent House is determined by position at the University. Fellows of colleges, those holding an ‘established’ position at the University, including Lecturers and Professors, and staff in some other roles, such as Research Associates and senior members of the Investment Office, are eligible.

The Governance Review Working Group has proposed to instead set a salary threshold for membership, with all staff earning more than the threshold being included in the Regent House roll. The report gives two possible thresholds: Grade 9, currently starting at £41,526, and Grade 7, starting at £30,942. If the lower threshold is adopted, members in Grades 7 and 8 would have to work at the University for at least three years before becoming eligible.

Both thresholds would increase the proportion of support staff participating in University governance, from 18.5% on the current Regent House roll to 33.0% for the Grade 7 model, or 22.9% for the Grade 9 model.

However, the report notes that “both grade-based models result in a reduced proportion of Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) staff”, which the Working Group considers “concerning”.

While the lower threshold “would improve representation of women”, the report suggests that the higher threshold has the advantage of “avoidance of overrepresentation of STEM disciplines” and “maintaining a strong voice [...] for academic staff”.

The Grade 9 model would also decrease the number qualifying for membership of the Regent House by more than one thousand people, whereas a threshold at Grade 7 would have the opposite effect. However, no current members will lose their membership as a result of the new rules.

Freddie Poser, the Student Councillor, explained to Varsity his belief that “a form of grade-based model seems broadly reasonable”.

He added: “The University relies heavily on members of staff in roles that are both academic and non-academic and I feel it would be wrong to pursue a change that brings Regent House further out of step with the broader makeup of the University […].

“Grade 9 and above are much older, more white and more male than both the University and G7+ [the Grade 7 model] and I hope that Regent House give this considerable attention when deciding.”

The reforms are necessary because “academic-related staff are increasingly being recruited on an unestablished basis, leading to a decline in the number holding established positions”, according to the report.

It continues: “There are numerous examples of individuals carrying out the same academic‐related jobs side by side, one with the additional rights of an established office and the other without. There has also been a more modest, but still noteworthy, growth in unestablished academics, mainly those whose employment is funded by external research bodies.”

A discussion of the recommendations will take place on 23rd March, with a voting timetable published at the start of Easter Term.