A visitor, in English and Welsh law and history, is an overseer of an autonomous ecclesiastical or eleemosynary institution, often a charitable institution set up for the perpetual distribution of the founder's alms and bounty, who can intervene in the internal affairs of that institution. Those with such visitors are mainly cathedrals, chapels, schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals. Many visitors hold their role ''
ex officio An ''ex officio'' member is a member of a body (notably a board, committee, council) who is part of it by virtue of holding another office. The term '' ex officio'' is Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic la ...
'', by serving as the British sovereign, the
Archbishop of Canterbury The archbishop of Canterbury is the senior bishop and a principal leader of the Church of England The Church of England (C of E) is the established Christian church in England and the mother church of the international Anglican Co ...
, the Lord Chancellor, the
Lord President of the Council The lord president of the Council is the presiding officer of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom and the fourth of the Great Officers of State (United Kingdom), Great Officers of State, ranking below the Lord High Treasurer but above the ...
, the Lord Chief Justice, or the bishop of a particular
diocese In church governance, a diocese or bishopric is the ecclesiastical district under the jurisdiction of a bishop. History In the later organization of the Roman Empire The Roman Empire ( la, Imperium Romanum ; grc-gre, Βασι ...
. Others can be appointed in various ways, depending on the constitution of the organization in question. Bishops are usually the visitors to their own cathedrals. The King usually delegates his visitatorial functions to the Lord Chancellor. During the reform of the universities of
Oxford Oxford () is a city in England. It is the county town and only city of Oxfordshire. In 2020, its population was estimated at 151,584. It is north-west of London London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kin ...
Cambridge Cambridge ( ) is a university city and the county town in Cambridgeshire Cambridgeshire (abbreviated Cambs.) is a county in the East of England, bordering Lincolnshire to the north, Norfolk to the north-east, Suffolk to the east ...
in the 19th century, Parliament ordered visitations to the universities to make inquiries and to reform the university and college statutes. There is a ceremonial element to the role, and the visitor may also be called upon to give advice where an institution expresses doubt as to its powers under its charter and statutes. However, the most important function of the visitor was within academic institutions, where the visitor had to determine disputes arising between the institution and its members. The right of the visitor, and not the courts, to adjudge on alleged deviations from the statutes of academic colleges was affirmed in the case of ''Philips v. Bury'', 1694, in which the
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overruled a judgment of the Court of King's Bench. The Higher Education Act 2004 transferred the jurisdiction of visitors over the grievances of students in English and Welsh universities to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

Outside England and Wales

The position has also existed in universities in other countries which have followed the English and Welsh model (there being no such office in Scotland), although in many countries the visitor's role in complaints has been transferred to other bodies.


In Ireland, the Universities Act, 1997 redefines the appointment, function and responsibility of a visitor. Where a university does not have a visitor, a visitor may be appointed by the government and must be either a current or retired judge of the High Court or a retired judge of the Supreme Court.


Fiji Fiji ( , ,; fj, Viti, ; Fiji Hindi: फ़िजी, ''Fijī''), officially the Republic of Fiji, is an island country in Melanesia, part of Oceania in the South Pacific Ocean The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest o ...
, the Court of Appeal in ''Muma v USP'' declared that in default of appointment, the country's president was the visitor of a university established by the Queen, since Fiji had subsequently become a republic.


The Governor of Victoria is the visitor to all Victorian universities, but has only ceremonial duties. The Governor of New South Wales is the visitor to Macquarie University, Sydney Grammar School, and the University of Sydney pursuant to statute. The governor is also the visitor of the University of Wollongong by the University of Wollongong Act 1989. Only ceremonial duties can be exercised by the Governor of NSW in his or her role as visitor; this is mandated under the same act.


Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, as a member of the Canadian Royal Family, served as the visitor to Upper Canada College from 1955 to his death in 2021. The Governor General of Canada, as the King's representative in Canada, serves as the visitor to
McGill University McGill University (french: link=no, Université McGill) is an English-language public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada Canada is a country in North America North America is a continent in the ...
. Similarly, the Lieutenant Governor serves as the visitor to the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario and the Lieutenant Governor of Newfoundland and Labrador serves as the visitor to
Memorial University of Newfoundland Memorial University of Newfoundland, also known as Memorial University or MUN (), is a public university in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador Newfoundland and Labrador (; french: Terre-Neuve-et-Labrador; frequently abbreviated as N ...
. The Anglican Bishop of Montreal serves as the visitor to Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec and the Anglican Bishop of Huron serves as the visitor to Renison University College in
Waterloo, Ontario Waterloo is a city in the Canadian province of Ontario Ontario ( ; ) is one of the thirteen provinces and territories of Canada.Ontario is located in the geographic eastern half of Canada, but it has historically and politically been co ...
. The Catholic Bishop of Saint John serves, as founding member of St. Thomas University's board of governors in Fredericton, New Brunswick.


In India, the
President of India The president of India ( IAST: ) is the head of state of the Republic of India. The president is the nominal head of the executive, the first citizen of the country, as well as the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces. Droupadi Mu ...
is the visitor to 126 central government institutes, such as the Indian Institutes of Technology.

United States

In the United States, the office of visitor, from its early use at some colleges and other institutions, evolved specifically into that of a trustee. Certain colleges and universities, particularly of an earlier, often colonial founding, are governed by boards of visitors, often chaired by a rector (rather than
regent A regent (from Latin : ruling, governing) is a person appointed to govern a state '' pro tempore'' (Latin: 'for the time being') because the monarch is a minor, absent, incapacitated or unable to discharge the powers and duties of the monarchy ...
s or trustees, etc.). Examples include the College of William and Mary and the
University of Virginia The University of Virginia (UVA) is a public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia. Founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the university is ranked among the top academic institutions in the United States The United Stat ...


In Nigeria, the visitor in publicly funded tertiary institution is the most senior member of government. This is usually the president in federally-funded universities or the governor for state-funded universities.

In literature

In the Jill Paton Walsh continuation of the Lord Peter Wimsey series of detective novels, '' The Late Scholar'', Lord Peter (now the Duke of Denver) is the visitor of the fictional St Severin's College in Oxford, which is central to the plot.

See also

* Apostolic visitor * Provincial episcopal visitor * List of college visitors of the University of Oxford * List of college visitors of the University of Cambridge


External links

Privy Council – visitatorial powers
* ttp:// An Example University School Board of Visitors at NJIT SOM {{Authority control Ecclesiastical titles English legal professionals Welsh legal professionals Ceremonial officers in England Ceremonial officers in Wales