...the home of experts

The home of experts in higher education and beyond

Our consultants have senior-level expertise in sectors that operate for the public good.

We work with non-profits and for-profits including universities, further education institutes, schools, charities, the NHS and arts/cultural organisations.

These institutions are educating our future leaders, providing a platform for talented artists and transforming lives.

But transformation has its challenges.

And that's where Halpin comes in.

Let's get started.

Latest news

Halpin Sector Report: UK Universities' Response to BLM

Nov 19, 2020

Halpin is delighted to today release the much-anticipated report: 'UK Universities' Response to Black Lives Matter.

Halpin Consulting Fellow Osaro Otobo was commissioned to lead the research project, which combined of interviews with senior university leaders, SU presidents, and activists, along with an in-depth desk review and public online survey.

Osaro has authored the resulting report.


You can also watch back our webinar where we discussed the findings here.

Halpin has a range of services available to help you combat racism in your institution. Get in touch today if you'd like to discuss your particular challenges.

Halpin is proud to announce our partnership and support for #Kindfest2020.

Oct 15, 2020

Halpin is excited to be a partner and supporter of the inaugural #Kindfest2020, being hosted by #Teamkind.

The brainchild of Halpin’s Joint CEO Susie Hills, #Kindfest2020 is an online celebration for World Kindness Day – Friday 13th November, from 2-7pm.

This event features five curated ‘tents’ covering kinder work, kinder politics, kinder youth, kinder lives and kinder thinking. 100% of the profits will go to TeamKind’s chosen charity partners – YoungMinds, Captain Tom Foundation and Blurt Foundation.

An extraordinary programme of speakers has been announced, including Cherie Blair CBE QC, TV presenter Alice Roberts, philosopher AC Grayling, politician Caroline Lucas MP, and writers and podcasters Giles Paley-Phillips and Julia Bradbury.

Susie, who was chosen as one of the FT’s ‘Leading Lights in Kindness’ last year, says,“It is essential to explore new ways of working together right now. We need to spread kindness and support people who are struggling - be they our children, loved ones, colleagues or strangers. Kindfest2020 is a chance to come together, recharge our batteries and stock up our kindness reserves”.

Kindness is a key part of the Halpin manifesto which guides our consultancy work.

Tickets are on sale now.

As part of our support for the event, Halpin has agreed to buy a free ticket for all staff, Fellows, Advisors, clients and past clients – if you fall into one of these categories watch this space for your invite!

Halpin & Collab Group Sector Report: Further Education

Oct 08, 2020

Halpin partners with Collab Group to release the State of the sector report.

Download the report here

Halpin and Collab Group today launched a brand-new report on the “state of the further education sector.” The report presents our findings following analysis of focus interviews conducted with 25 Principals and Chief Executives across UK Further Education colleges, and an accompanying survey.

In the report, we examine some of the key opportunities and challenges including facing FE leaders, including how colleges have responded to the coronavirus pandemic, the anticipated FE White Paper and the relationship between FE and HE.

Some of the key findings include:

• 81% of leaders surveyed agreed that further education colleges will be critical to economic recovery efforts

• Just 19% of leaders are very confident about the financial position of their college over the next 12 months

• 67% of leaders are concerned about the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on learner progression

• 80% of leaders agree that their governance arrangements are appropriate to respond to current and emerging challenges.

Ian Pretty, Chief Executive of Collab Group said:

“This report is the first of its kind for Collab Group and represents a really valuable encapsulation of the views of further education leaders at this challenging and unprecedented time. I want to thank Halpin for all their great work in conducting the research and analysis that went into this report."

Susie Hills, CEO of Halpin Partnership said:

“It has been a pleasure to partner with Collab Group on this report. The report tells a story of a sector which has risen to the immense challenges of Covid and which will be vital to our recovery.”

Find out more about Halpin's Further Education services here.

Is the new revised CUC Code of Governance enough?

Sep 17, 2020

The CUC has just published its revised Higher Education Code of Governance.

The Code recognises institutional autonomy and the diversity of the HE sector, and therefore asks institutions to “apply the Code or explain”.

This means that institutions can apply certain elements and explain why other elements are not appropriate. The Code notes that Governing Bodies will need to consider “how best to communicate to stakeholders the extent of their compliance with the Code”, probably through their Financial Statements.

Often a regular external governance review helps to consider compliance, but given a new focus on developing good governance and stakeholder engagement, institutions may want to also consider whether an ongoing governance improvement plan for their institution would assist.

The Code identifies six primary elements that“embody the core values, assist in delivering the objectives and provide the basis of good governance”. It is interesting that after a decade or so when many universities struggled with their Courts and often disbanded them, that the Code concurs with the Camm report in Wales and highlights as one of its six primary elements:“Engagement – Governing Bodies understand the various stakeholders (especially staff and students) of the institution globally, nationally and locally and are assured that appropriate and meaningful engagement takes place to allow stakeholder views to be considered and reflected in relevant decision-making processes”.

Given the diversity of the HE Sector, the new sub-principles below the primary elements are, perhaps inevitably, a mix of the low bar, general and more demanding requirements. The principle of “Effectiveness” includes:

  • the low bar - cover for the absence of a Chair and fit and proper person checks,
  • general -“The governing body will also need to consider having a sub-committee structure which supports its effective operation, with specific consideration being given to Audit, Finance, and Nominations committees”,
  • more demanding - “the governing body needs to focus on strategic risks and emerging opportunities for the institution”. “An effective governing body has a culture where all members can question intelligently, debate constructively, challenge rigorously, decide dispassionately and be sensitive to the views of others both inside and outside governing bodies meetings” and the Governing Body“also receives assurance that the prevalent behaviours in the institution are consistent with its articulated values”.

The most important question is how helpful the Code is for institutions. While it is right that the Code is brief and principles-based, it would be helpful if it were be supported by a small number of well-judged, high profile best practice materials. The Code helpfully notes that “the CUC will collaborate with other organisations to provide more detailed advice on implementation in due course”.

Some ideas as to what Institutions might find useful include: • help in defining an Institutional Governance Maturity Framework so that in terms of best practice an institution can plot where it sits currently and what it might then target as improvement priorities. It should be possible to sensibly plot in such a framework the behaviours and evidence of where an institution might be a failing institution, where it would be high-performing and the intermediate stages. • defining for each of the 6 principles what might constitute the bar, what would be good practice and what would be excellent.

There is a higher-level question as to whether the Code helps restore confidence in HE Governance. A HEPI blog from John Rushforth, the executive secretary of CUC, sets out reasons for publishing the Code including “to protect the reputation of the sector”. My view is that it helps do this, but it alone is not enough.

Although the Government has been very reliant on universities during the pandemic for research, testing and helping it recover from its examinations embarrassment, it still seems to have very little to positive to say about universities. Also, the press has, in recent years, inevitably focused on a range of negative issues including Vice-Chancellor and senior officer remuneration. Given previous university governance failures it is clear that more needs to be done.

In my last blog, I noted the excellent initiative in Wales with the publication of a Governance Charter for Universities in Wales agreed by all the Chairs and Vice-Chancellors. This is not a Code of Governance; Universities in Wales will continue to adhere to the CUC Code of Governance. “It is a series of commitments to take steps to improve governance and to adopt best practice both from within and outside the sector; it also commits the institutions to report on progress made”.

There is also an accompanying document Commitment to Action which sets out the agreed actions and lead players following on from the Charter. Each university will report on progress on implementation in their annual reports and HEFCW will report on sector progress.

Finally, the timing of publication of the Code comes at a difficult time for Governing Bodies. The pandemic has moved them from a world of ‘normal’, where this Code obviously fits, to a world of crisis requiring regular virtual operational Governing Body meetings. This looks set to continue for some time and it will be interesting to see if and how institutions will react to the new Code. The Welsh Funding Council (HEFCW) has recognised that implementation of its initiative will have to be delayed.

Frank Toop is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in higher education governance.

GUEST POST Part 1: NSS is not fit for purpose - where did it go wrong?

Aug 27, 2020

Rethinking student experience

Part One – Where did it go so wrong?

The National Student Survey (NSS), launched 15 years ago, endeavoured to give the higher education sector insight into students’ satisfaction with their student experience. Its website states that NSS’s purpose is to gather “opinions from students about their time in higher education, asking them to provide honest feedback on what it has been like to study on their course at their university/college”. Since its inception, NSS has become one of the key benchmarks on which to judge universities, also playing a significant role as a metric in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) metrics and sector league tables.

It won’t be news to anybody that the NSS has had a controversial reception over the years, most notably so when TEF ratings became linked to the ability for an institution to charge higher fees, resulting in a national NSS boycott policy by Student Unions. Despite this, universities have continued to give it credence, largely because of the financial risk of poor scores in a competitive market.

And yet, as the sector becomes more reliant on the NSS results, the questions and concerns about the legitimacy or reliability of the NSS haven’t disappeared. Not least because the 2020 results suspiciously showed no impact of two major events; significant industrial action over a prolonged period and a global pandemic. Which raises the question - if the complete absence of physical lectures doesn’t shift the scores, what will? And what else might the NSS be failing to highlight?

There are three key reasons why the NSS is not fit for purpose:

Firstly, the NSS takes an extremely narrow view of the student experience. All of the 26 core questions are directly related to the academic on-course experience. But student satisfaction with academic provision does not equal satisfaction with a broad and holistic student experience. You might strongly agree that “the course is well-organised and running smoothly” (Q15) but be unable to access mental health provision due to long wait times, struggle to pay your expensive rent or are priced out of extra-curricular activities that were sold to you on the open day. The key student issues aren’t whether “staff are good at explaining things” (Q1), but the mental health crisis, quality and price of accommodation, or sexual assault incidents on campus. As such, the data that NSS produces gives a superficial snapshot of a narrow element of the student experience. The danger for individual institutions is that this view can prevent their senior leadership and governing body from digging deeper into what’s happening on the ground outside the lecture theatres.

Secondly, the NSS results do not show active dissatisfaction. The percentages that you see are the proportion of students who either agreed or strongly agreed with the statements, running the risk of us only seeing the results of a homogenous majority. The higher education experience is often brilliant for those with enough money, time and social capital to navigate all it has to offer. But we also know that underrepresented student groups have a disproportionately less satisfactory or enjoyable experience at university. In many cases, the system is just not built to support them. Perhaps then, good NSS scores are more reflective of the type of students an institution attracts, rather than an accurate portrayal of the student experience. If a university is relying only on their NSS scores, then they will be glossing over any active dissatisfaction and won’t be focusing on those students who are falling through the gaps.

Finally, like most blunt measurement tools, the NSS can bring unintended consequences. In this case, some universities might mistakenly focus their time and attention on improving their NSS scores, rather than working to improve the student experience in itself. The NSS has been put on a sector pedestal, influencing league table places, TEF ratings and subsequent student recruitment performance. It’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on external perception rather than internal experience. By creating so-called “measurables” in the academic experience, we begin to overvalue what we can measure, and undervalue what we can’t.

The NSS’s narrow view of the student experience, its lack of interest in active dissatisfaction and the culture of prioritising metrics over experiences make it clearer than ever that the NSS is not fit for purpose, especially when the next academic year will look so vastly different from all that we know about student experience in the past. So what do we do next?

See: Part Two - How should we put it right?

Eve Alcock is Former President of The University of Bath’s Students’ Union and a HE policy enthusiast.

GUEST POST Part 2: NSS is not fit for purpose - how should we put it right?

Aug 27, 2020

Rethinking student experience

Part Two – How should we put it right?

In my previous guest post, I shared three major ways in which the NSS has gone wrong. Its narrow view of the student experience, its lack of interest in active dissatisfaction and the consequence of prioritising metrics over experiences make it clear that the NSS is not fit for purpose. So what do we do next?

To start with, we need to get back to the real purpose of NSS. That is, what it should have been - an exercise that highlights how universities can improve the student experience. This starts with establishing a common understanding across the sector that student experience includes a wider range of factors; academic experience, affordability, mental health provision, a sense of belonging, extra-curricular activities and more.

Secondly, to get a rich view of ‘experience’ at a University we have to listen to just that; students’ experiences, not students’ relative agreement to stock statements. This is why the open comments section of the NSS is so important. It can be overwhelming to work through volumes of qualitative insight, but it’s never been more important if we want to understand what drives our students and what worries them. Universities have bright, articulate students on their campus who can share what it’s like to be studying at their institution, but the institution has to have the resource and time to be able to listen. It might help to use quantitative data to identify areas for investigation, but the value will always lie in the qualitative.

Next, for this to be meaningful, we have to instil a tailored approach to both the data gathering and the proposed solutions to problems. It’s not enough that a white, middle class, cis-gendered, able-bodied student reports a fantastic experience. We also need to know black students’ experiences of mental health provision, whether care leavers are able to access extra-curricular activities and what stops disabled students from navigating the local transport provision? When the focus shifts from an external perception of a singular student experience to an internal one, it means concentrating on students’ experiences – plural.

Working in this way gives the opportunity for the solution-finding process to be collaborative. This means involving the affected students in developing the solutions. By sharing the challenges and limitations around implementation, it allows for a united approach that brings pragmatic, innovative and progressive resolutions. Collective intelligence helps solves complex problems.

Finally, this process has to be a continuous partnership, carried out visibly in real time. NSS data gives insight into an experience of the past 3 years, but more immediacy is needed to affect real change. Students need to be heard and their concerns addressed whilst they’re still at the institution. This culture of continual feedback means candid conversations with students and being challenged to find solutions to difficult issues would be the norm.

So, if your institution has become stuck on a singular view of student experience that is concentrated only on NSS and you are keen to create real positive change for your students, then talk to Halpin. We can help you to find an approach that is purposeful, qualitative, tailored, collaborative and carried out in real time. It’s too easy to become preoccupied with the NSS, but it doesn’t need to be a barrier to also finding an approach that actually makes meaningful improvements to the student experience.

Eve Alcock is Former President of The University of Bath’s Students’ Union and a HE policy enthusiast.

Upping the governance game in Wales

Aug 03, 2020

In 2019, Chairs and Vice-Chancellors in Wales commissioned Gillian Camm to do a review of HE governance in Wales. The report was published in December 2019 and set out a proposed way forward on governance that was clustered around a series of governance values.

I think it is relevant to all UK HE institutions and I would encourage you to review it if you haven't already.

The Camm report is a substantive piece of work and a good read. Its main objective was “to enable governors to operate at the leading edge of good corporate governance in terms of compliance and crucially boardroom culture”. It noted that “there is growing impatience with the sector at UK level and recent governance issues have fuelled the desire to see change”. Crucially, it recommended that the sector acknowledged past governance failings and developed a public document – a Charter for Change – which made commitments whose delivery would be audited and reported on.

The overall thrust of the report is on enabling governing bodies to fulfil their stewardship role but also offer effective leadership in partnership with the management team and develop a strong accountability to the University’s stakeholders. She notes that consideration of stakeholders and the institution’s contribution to society is becoming important in governance.

Stakeholders such as students, staff, communities and partners should be equipped to understand and challenge the governance of a University. In our reviews at Halpin we find that this is often a neglected area of governance which is ripe for development and innovation.

Camm uses the work of Bob Garratt “Stop the Rot: Reframing Governance for Directors and Politicians” and others to explore governance issues. Camm’s 21 recommendations are built around Garratt’s cornerstone values of accountability, probity and transparency to which she adds competence, challenge, trust and engagement. “Governing bodies need to be able to articulate for their institutions: its purpose (with precision), its vision and values that guide its actions, its culture and demonstrate how everything from its strategies to the senior staff remuneration policies align with these”.

The Camm report has led to the publication of a Governance Charter for Universities in Wales agreed by all the Chairs and Vice-Chancellors. This is not a Code of Governance, Universities in Wales will continue to adhere to the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) Code of Governance. “It is a series of commitments to take steps to improve governance and to adopt best practice both from within and outside the sector; it also commits the institutions to report on progress made”. There is also an accompanying document "Commitment to Action" which sets out the agreed actions and lead players following on from the Charter. Each University will report on progress on implementation in their annual reports and HEFCW will report on sector progress.

The Charter acknowledges past governance failings and has a number of key foci:

• Rebuilding trust with and accountability to stakeholders – Welsh Universities plan to develop good practice for stakeholder engagement and should report on their institution’s engagement in their annual reports. There should be clear mechanisms to ensure the voices of both students and staff are heard and ensure that stakeholders can engage with and contribute to the key strategies of the University.

• Probity – leaders must be seen to operate to the highest personal standards. Camm talks about conflicts of interest being not just reported but anticipated, tracked, managed and made transparent.

• Greater transparency – “Everyone in a modern University needs to have a clear understanding of the work of the governing body and in return that governing body must have a clear appreciation of the culture and climate within the rest of the organisation”. Each governing body should formally review quantitative and qualitative data relating to organisational culture. The Chair and VC in each institution will participate in a 360 feedback report designed around the institution’s values. Camm recommends that “governing bodies should consider how to establish a governance culture of openness, transparency and trust that is led by the Board”. She also commends annual reports such as Vodafone’s which give a comprehensive understanding of how governance actually works.

• Challenge – there must be robust and constructive challenge particularly from the independent members and the papers must be of a quality and style that enables this.

• Competence – Trustees and Senior staff must fully appreciate their responsibilities and be equipped to discharge them. Camm notes the onerous and complex nature of the trustee role and the substantial cost of governance failure for the individual and the institution and therefore the need to ensure governor competence is fit for purpose.

The Charter and Action Plan were developed prior to lockdown and it will be interesting to see what priority is now given to implementing them. There is a risk, given the demands that pandemic is making on the sector, that spending on governance improvements could be viewed as discretionary spending which can be cut as a luxury rather than being seen as essential for the future of the University.

Good governance must continue to be a priority for the sector and is even more important in a time of crisis. Given previous governance failures and the UK’s Government’s continuing negative views of HE Sector, an obvious question is whether a similar initiative to that in Wales would benefit other countries in the UK.

Frank Toop is a Consulting Fellow for Halpin, the home of experts in governance.

3 reasons to make your next governance effectiveness review an external one

Jul 28, 2020

When budgets are tight and resources are limited, it can be tempting to carry out your governance effectiveness review without any external input. This can be done by using the internal auditors, setting up a working group of governors to do the assessment or asking the Clerk or Secretary to lead on the review.

However, there are times when this approach doesn’t bring sufficient independence or fresh thinking. So here are our top three reasons to work with an external supplier on reviewing your governance arrangements:

1. Regulator and Code Guidance

The CUC Code of Governance suggests every university (excluding Scotland) should carry out a review of its effectiveness every four years. Whilst they don’t mandate an external review, they do say, “many governing bodies find an external perspective in this process useful”. This point is repeated in the draft CUC Code of Governance, which proposes that a review “with some degree of independent input” gives greater assurance to stakeholders.

The OfS takes a stronger view, welcoming external evidence of the effectiveness of management and governance arrangements. Reflecting on the previous year of registrations in their 2019/20 review , they say, “A large number of providers were unable to evidence regular external input into reviews of their arrangements. There was also a reliance on what appeared to be paper-based compliance exercises against a chosen Code. This did not allow the OfS to make judgements about the effectiveness of arrangements”. In some cases where they have concerns over financial strategy or risk management, the OfS will even ask for an external review to be done as a condition of registration.

2. Objectivity & Independence

If the review is led by one of the existing governance roles – the Clerk, Secretary, Chair or even the Senior Independent Governor – it is very difficult to put aside the inevitable conflict of interest that exist. No matter how impartial they strive to be, it is impossible to be entirely neutral, especially when assessing the behaviours and dynamics of the Board. An external assessor has no preconceptions - and ideally no prior relationship with any of the people involved – and so the review conclusions can be based only on evidence gathered during the project.

The second advantage of an external review is that the stakeholders being interviewed, whether they are an independent governor or a member of the Executive team, are likely to feel more able to be candid in their reflections. They should be able to speak freely about any concerns without fear of reprisal.

3. Learning from Best Practice

The final key benefit of an external review is the insight that your consultant can share with you from their work with other clients. The codes of governance can give guidance on best practice, but it is often real-world examples on how this has been implemented at other institutions which really add value. The most useful effectiveness review reports will include an element of sector benchmarking - perhaps around the size of boards, committee structures or student representation - which is tailored to your institution and particular needs. There is also value in choosing an external reviewer who has experience of other sectors beyond higher education as there are often useful lessons to be learnt from other areas including the public sector, further education, charity and even commercial organisations.

Are you confident that your internal review can stand up to scrutiny? If you’d like to discuss how we can help bring independence and objectivity to your next governance review, please contact us here.

Client Case Study: UCL Governance Review

Jul 28, 2020

UCL is one of the UK’s truly global institutions in research, education and enterprise. It has demonstrated in the last 10 years a resilience and agility in a fluid and uncertain environment, and it is currently demonstrating that leadership in its research-led contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Halpin was commissioned to undertake an independent review of UCL's Council Effectiveness and were encouraged to adopt an open and inclusive approach. Due to a combination of circumstances - the challenge of emerging from the Covid-19 crisis, the likely consequential strategic reassessment, and a change of UCL leadership - this was a critical moment of transition in which to unleash the energy for change. Our Review team heard the views of over 60 stakeholders, through one-to-one discussions and focus groups. We also undertook benchmarking research to compare UCL’s governance structure against global comparators.

Review Outcomes:

A series of 19 recommendations and 10 further suggestions were presented in our final report. The report was then published and can be read in full here.

We concluded that addressing the culture in key areas and relationships is the absolute priority to create the best chance of implementing the reform.

Fundraising for Research: the joy of the job

Jul 22, 2020

As a fundraiser in a university or research laboratory, you have one of the best jobs there is.

You get to spend time speaking to amazing researchers who are genuinely trying to change the world with their work, and then you get to go and speak to donors who can make that change happen.

But do donors give to this area, and if so, how can you help to make that happen?

Well, all the evidence from the Coutts philanthropic reports showed that the biggest gifts from £million donors went to Education and Research. So yes, donors will give significantly to this area. But how do you alert them to your cause, and catch their interest? You need three things: a great Project, wealthy and interested Prospects, and enthusiastic and hardworking Askers.


As a university fundraiser for over a decade, I found that the easiest projects to “sell” were those really ambitious research projects that reached for the stars. The old saying, “you don’t get millions for $5 ideas” is certainly true; you have to have real ambition and shape what you are discussing with donors, particularly where it is their real area of passion. They need to know that you know your stuff, and they will want to speak to the research leader involved.

Sometimes this will come out of a conversation with a donor. They will tell you about a key interest of theirs, and you will then have the task of seeing if that fits with the priorities of your institution. If it does, then you have a lot of exciting work to do to bring the project to fruition. At other times the project will be of key interest to your institution, and you will start out with that project in speaking to the prospective donor.

Either way, you will need the following: absolute clarity in the vision for the project; what need it is going to fulfil or solve; what the outcome is going to be; what the cost is.


Very clearly, you could have the most wonderful project worked out with precise detail, but if you don’t know anyone who is going to give to it then you’re going to struggle. We work with a number of institutes and universities to help them put together prospect lists for specific projects. You need to align the contacts the institution already has with those who have a real interest in the area you are looking at, aligned with an ability to give a transformative gift. Alumni could help you here, but usually they are only a start – the biggest gifts are not all alumni-driven, and there is no reason why an institute or research charity cannot engage the interest of a potential donor, build a great and lasting relationship with them, and develop a really transformative gift.


I said above that you need great prospective donors to be able to give to great projects. That is absolutely true. However, the vital ingredient that brings all of these together is the right team of “askers”.

Not everyone wants to ask for big gifts. It’s been far less a part of British culture than it has in the USA, but it has hugely developed here in the last 20 years. Put very simply, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. That’s true of almost everything in life, and it’s definitely true of philanthropy. You have to let people know what you need (very precisely), why you need it, and when.

That’s where professional fundraising comes in. Most researchers never intended to be fundraisers – why should they? Their job is to have the £million ideas that change the world. You need to work with a fundraising team that knows what it is doing, that will help you develop a case, identify the right donors, put together the right team of askers, and help you get the gift over the line.

I use the phrase “team of askers” because the fundraisers can’t do this alone. It will take involved leadership from the institution, inspiring researchers, brilliant fundraisers, and a lot of hard work in building long-lasting relationships.

We help universities and research institutes in doing the above every day. It’s what we do, and we love it. We particularly love helping you to get the gift that could just change the world. Given the times we are living in, that has never felt more important.

Shaun Horan is Joint CEO of Halpin, the home of experts in fundraising.