Legal status

Home / Help and Advice / Corporate and legal / Legal and finance / Legal status

Legal title: University of Sunderland

Head office address, to be used for all formal notices and legal correspondence:

University of Sunderland
4th Floor Edinburgh Building
Chester Road
City Campus

Information about the University’s trustees can be found on the Board of Governors page.


The following documents are publicly available:

  • The University of Sunderland’s main constitutional document, the Articles of Governance (.pdf)
  • The University of Sunderland’s annual Report and Financial Statement's are available from Docushare, the University’s online repository for documents. All statements are available from 2004 to the most recent year.

Legal status

The University of Sunderland is a Higher Education Corporation established by Order of the Secretary of State under Section 121 of the Educational Reform Act, 1988, which included provisions that existing Polytechnics, including Sunderland Polytechnic, should become Higher Education Corporations, independent of the Local Education Authorities. They became formally established on 21 November 1988.

The Further and Higher Education Act 1992 subsequently made provision for the Privy Council to grant degree-awarding powers to Higher Education Corporations and to allow a Higher Education Corporation to change its name to 'university'.

The Privy Council formally agreed to Sunderland Polytechnic having the power to award degrees by Order in Council made on 4 June 1992 and to its becoming 'University of Sunderland' by letter dated 16 June 1992; this power taking effect on 1 September 1992.

Sunderland Polytechnic was one of the first polytechnics established in 1969; however its roots as an educational institution go back to 1860 when the School of Science and Art was founded.


The Privy Council on 26 April 1993 made an Instrument of Government under the provisions of the 1992 Act, which (inter alia) regulates the composition of the Board of Governors. The Board of Governors pursuant to the 1988 Act (as amended by the 1992 Act) have, with the consent of the Privy Council, adopted Articles of Government for the management of the University which came into effect on 27 June 1996.

Charitable status

The University is not a company and is therefore not registered as such.

The University is recognised in law as a charity and under the provisions of Schedule 2 of the Charities Act, 1993, this University, and all other Higher Education Corporations created by the 1988 Act, were granted the status of ‘Exempt Charities’. This means that, unlike most other charitable trusts, it is not required to be formally registered with the Charity Commissioners.

One of the objectives of the Commissioners is to ‘promote compliance by charity trustees with their legal obligations in exercising control and management of the administration of their charities’.

Regulation of this objective was effectively devolved to the Higher Educating Funding Council for England by the Charities Act, 2006. The Act requires the Commissioners to consult HEFCE before exercising any of its powers in relation to an exempt charity.

The Commissioners agreed a Memorandum of Understanding with HEFCE dated 1 June 2010, which describes how the Commission and HEFCE will work together, taking into account existing processes and powers available to HEFCE.

For further information see:


Documents detailing the University’s Legal Status:

Charitable Status of the University
Instrument signed by The Secretary of State for Education and Science recording the designation of Sunderland Polytechnic
Extracts from the Education Reform Act 1998
The Education (Higher Education Corporation) Orders 1988
Extracts from the Further and Higher Education Act 1992
Resolution from the Board of Governors
Power to Award Degrees (England and Wales)
Privy Council Letter
Extract from the Charities Act Schedule 2(h)
Articles of Government effective from 27th June 1996
Instrument of Government 26th April 1993
University of Sunderland Armorial Bearings