5. Agenda Planning and Timescales
5.1 Overall Timetable of Work (a guide but not prescriptive)
- 4 weeks before meeting
- Seek items from the Chair, members, regular contributors and bodies/business areas that feed into your committee
- Check actions from previous meeting(s)
- 10 working days before meeting
- Deadline for papers
- 7 working days before meeting
- Agree final agenda with chair
- 5 working days before meeting
- Circulate papers
- No more than 3 working days after meeting
- Minutes to chair for approval
- No more than 10 working days after meeting
- Minutes to committee members
- Send extracts of minutes to relevant people for information or action.
The purpose of the agenda is to facilitate the business of the meeting by providing a clear and concise list of the items to be dealt with and assisting with the organisation of any papers. It should make clear what the committee is expected to do with each item.
5.3 Determining and Ordering Items
- Responsibility for drafting the agenda lies with the Secretary.
- Typically the Secretary should send an email to committee members and key attendees/officers seeking items for the next meeting and setting an appropriate deadline for papers to be received (ideally 10 working days before the meeting).
- Another key point of reference for the agenda will be the minutes of the last meeting and previous meetings. The minutes themselves will be for approval but there may also be items that are being carried forward to the next meeting. You should follow up any outstanding actions from the previous meetings in a timely way which in some cases may mean before the minutes are finalised.
- It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether an item is a matter arising from the minutes or a new agenda item. One rule of thumb might be: if there is only a verbal update on the item then it is a matter arising from the minutes, but if there is a substantial paper for discussion and decision then it is a new agenda item. Ultimately it is for the Chair to decide where on the agenda an item should be placed if there is any doubt. However, the Secretary should draft the agenda in full with a proposal for where items should be positioned.
- Annex 3 sets out standard items which should be on the agenda for all committee meetings at the first and last meetings of each academic year. In order to establish other items that should be routinely placed on the agenda at any particular meeting, reference should be made to the minutes of the equivalent meeting in the previous two years. If there is a pattern of regular business, standard agendas or lists of items should be developed.
- The Secretary should check in good time for items being reported up by sub-committees and for reports being passed down by the parent committee.
5.4 Confidential Items
The Freedom of Information Act means that most committee papers would in principle need to be released if requested, unless a specific exemption applies. It is desirable therefore for material to be in a form that can be placed on the Committees website so that all members of the University and the public can access it. Where material is sensitive and its release may either need careful handling or it may be covered by an exemption the paper should be marked CONFIDENTIAL, mounted on the web with access restricted to those connected with the committee and discretion used over how the item appears on any public web version of the agenda. The nature of the business of some committees means that it is not always possible to anticipate in advance whether discussion of an item will include personal or e.g. commercially sensitive information or agendas may include a mixture of such items. In these cases, all agendas and papers should be set up on the web with access appropriately restricted.
(b) Senate and Council – Special Agendas
Historically, it has been the convention for items which included personal information about staff or students to be placed on a separate Special agenda, distinct from the Ordinary agenda. More recently issues of a sensitive nature where discussions are at an early stage and not yet for wider consultation have been included on Special agendas. Special agendas should only be used when absolutely necessary and the decision on whether an item should appear on a Special agenda rests ultimately with the Chair. The Special agenda is usually taken after the Ordinary agenda and student members of the committee are required to leave the meeting. Special agenda papers should not be circulated to student members and should not appear on the web before the meeting. In many cases, the Special Agenda may be confidential before the meeting but will not be so afterwards, if e.g. recommended appointments or awards are made. A decision will need to be made by the Chair and Secretary regarding how Special Agenda items and associated papers and minutes should appear on the Committee website. Even if it is decided not to publish publically after the meeting, it may be necessary to release material placed on a Special agenda under the Freedom of Information Act unless the issue is covered by one of the permitted exemptions.
5.5 Agreeing the Agenda
Once prepared, the draft agenda should be discussed with the Chair, ideally at least 7 working days before the meeting but this will depend on the nature of the committee. If possible, papers should be available to aid the discussion.
5.6 Format and Structure of Agenda
- The style, layout and numbering of the agenda should be in accord with the examples in Annex 4 and Annex 5).
- The numbering of agenda items should begin at 1 for each new agenda (Ordinary and Special agendas are separate agendas for this purpose. Sub-items should be numbered in accordance with the conventions set out in Annex 4.
- The agenda for a formal committee should be divided into sections (this structure will not be necessary for smaller sub-committees and working group where essentially all items may be for discussion):
- Business of the Agenda - matters carried over from the previous meeting, including procedure for unstarring (if applicable – see paragraph (e) below), confirmation of the minutes and matters arising
- Section A - items for discussion, the main business of the agenda
- Section B - starred items for approval, these will not be discussed unless unstarred (for example, a parent committee may have final authority for approving a policy which had been fully discussed at a sub-committee. The parent committee will still need to formally APPROVE the policy but would not normally need to discuss it). This is a necessary formal process.
- Section C - starred items for information, these will not be discussed unless unstarred. This is a mechanism for providing committee members with information which is relevant and informative but for which no action is required (for example, parent committees might receive regular reports from sub-committees).
- Items should be starred where they are non-controversial and are to be approved or noted without discussion. The final decision on whether an item should be starred lies with the Chair. Members of the committee may unstar an item by notifying the secretary, usually in advance of the meeting so that other members can be alerted. The timetable for unstarring items to allow discussion will vary depending on the committee, but it should be included as the first item on the agenda, under the heading ‘Business of the Agenda.
- The agenda should make clear exactly what the committee is asked to do in respect of an item (consider, note/receive, approve, make a recommendation to another committee etc).
- Items that are oral reports only, with no supporting papers, should be indicated as such and all papers numbered in accordance with the conventions set out in Annex 4.
- Items relating to changes to ordinances, regulations or procedures should be clearly indicated on the agenda, include a ‘with effect from…’ date and, if appropriate, the agenda should state to which cohort of students they will apply (Also see paragraph 9 – Creation, Amendment and Repeal of Ordinances and Regulations).