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Who can sign? The lowdown on university delegations and decision-making

The appropriate person to authorise a contract or agreement on behalf of the University can vary depending on the contract’s nature and value. It might be the head of your academic or administrative unit, or someone in a more senior position, specialist area or specific role – but they need to have a delegation.

Who’s who in the Zoo?

As a public institution, the University exists and is governed by an Act (The University of Adelaide Act 1972) that designates much of what it does and how it operates.

For the University, the Act says that the ultimate decision making authority is the Council. Council is permitted to delegate its responsibilities and authorities under the Act to other people or groups within the University.  This is typically done through an ‘instrument of delegation’. A person exercising a delegation (the delegate) is ultimately exercising the authority of the Council (or in some cases the Vice Chancellor).

All University delegations are listed on the Delegations webpage. Administration of delegations are managed by the Office of the Chancellor and Council Secretariat.

What do I have to do?

University staff exercising delegated authority must observe the principles made under section 10 of the Act. These include acting in the best interests of the university, observing any limits or conditions attached to the delegation, applying their own professional judgment to the matter and applying their own professional judgement.

These requirements are enshrined in the university’s Contracts and Agreements Policy, Financial Management Policy, Purchasing Procedures and principles governing the exercise of all delegations of authority.

Signing contracts – do you have a delegation for that?

Commitment of University funds or resources must always be in accordance with the University’s Delegations of Authority. In practice this means that any contract or agreement can only be signed by a staff member with:

  1. Delegated authority to make commitments of the relevant nature (view delegations for individual positions here); and
  2. An appropriate financial delegation (the total value of the contract must be within their authorised expenditure limit)

If you don’t meet both of those criteria – you can’t sign the contract!

Local area delegations

For many contracts relating to day-to-day activities, responsibility has been delegated to academic and administrative units.  For example, the Branch Head or Head of School has delegated authority to approve travel, authorise recruitment and commit expenditure for goods and services up to $100,000 within the approved budget for their area.

When the local area has a contract with a value exceeding local area financial delegation, it must be referred to someone with the appropriate financial delegation, such as the Faculty Executive Dean, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Chief Operating Officer or the Vice Chancellor.  Remember, the main purpose of delegations is to grant authority to make decisions at the appropriate levels.  So make sure you refer a decision to the appropriate level – the Vice Chancellor is not interested in an order to restock the local vending machine!

Do you need to consult a specialist area?

For certain types of contracts, specialist areas may hold the authority to execute contracts.

Contracts requiring referral to specialist areas include those related to research grants, research agreements, commercialisation, collaborative research ventures, employment contracts and titleholder appointments, IT, brand, procurement of goods and services, sponsorships and international learning and teaching agreements. A full list of specialist areas is set out in the Contracts and Agreements Policy.

As always, if in doubt, get in touch with the Legal and Risk Branch at helpdesklegal@adelaide.edu.au or 8313 4539.

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