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University of Sunderland

Case Study
Governance Effectiveness Review

Halpin was commissioned by the University of Sunderland in late 2020 to conduct a governance effectiveness review, with our final report delivered in March 2021. 2020 clearly brought enormous challenges to university governing bodies and leadership teams – a global pandemic, the UK’s departure from the EU and pressing wider social issues such as Black Lives Matter and climate change all added to an already highly pressured HE sector.

Governance arrangements had to quickly shift to being delivered entirely remotely, and universities continue to embrace blended learning in order to react quickly to rapidly shifting circumstances. Sunderland’s Board were aware of the many challenges facing the sector and the risks for their institution and were keen to ensure they are equipped to respond. The overarching focus of the review was therefore to consider how Sunderland could move from governance ‘good’ to governance ‘great’, to be agile, resilient and leading edge.

Our work found that Sunderland has good governance, with an excellent relationship between the Board members and a strong sense of there being a single, coherent team with non-executives, executives, staff and student members all contributing.


  • University-wide consultation with a survey to Governors, 21 interviews, 3 meeting observations and 4 student focus groups with 22 participants.
  • Comprehensive desk review of governance documentation.
  • A comparison of higher education sector best practice.
  • Assessment of the University’s compliance with the updated CUC Higher Education Code of Governance (September 2020), OfS requirements and also drew on the Charity Governance Code and the UK Corporate Governance Code.
  • Assessment of the governance arrangements against the Halpin Governance Maturity Framework.
  • 27 recommendations and 26 suggestions with 9 priority future-focused recommendations, addressing areas of weakness and strengthening areas of risk.