This autumn, university governing bodies will be meeting with a long list of concerns. From the Office for Students (OfS) to student numbers to the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
Perhaps tough finances, which require cost-cutting.
There will be many reports from staff leading on these areas to digest. There will be strategies to approve.
There will be long agendas and lots of papers to plough through.
In amongst all this there is likely to be a note on governance and remuneration following the Committee of University Chairs (CUC)and OfS guidance. There might be a suggestion of a governance review (currently recommended every 4-5 years). There might be a sigh of relief that such a review isn’t ‘due’.
But given all the changes and the challenges facing higher education, this might be the very time to review – whether it’s due or not.
There are good reasons to consider a governance review:
- Compliance – guidance is evolving and changing – and what was compliant 3-4 years ago may not be compliant today.
- Risk – the expectations of stakeholders have changed, and the media has a high level of interest in governance – and particularly remuneration.
- Performance – the pressure on Universities is greater than ever, with performance being measured in a raft of ways – NSS, TEF, the Research Excellence Framework (REF), league tables…. Your governing body needs to be strongly focused on performance and market insight.
- Culture – It’s been a tough year in many institutions, with cuts in expenditure (and jobs), strikes over pensions and media focus on universities. Good governance is as much about the culture of an institution as it is about compliance and governing bodies need to take the pulse of staff and students and understand the culture in their organisations.
But most importantly…
- Longer term strategy – any institution facing the level of change and the number of strategic decisions that a typical university is going to have to make over the coming year/s will need to know it has top-notch governance in place. The decisions taken now will shape the institution you will be in 3, 5, 10+ years. The sector is changing quickly, and you need to know where your institution should place itself. It’s hard for even the best-informed governors to keep abreast of the challenges and changes in HE and to critically review all the information presented to them. It’s also hard to involve governors in detailed discussion and debate when there is so much ‘business’ to get through.
At its best, governance is about looking forward strategically, and considering future options. It goes far beyond checking for compliance and managing risk. In amongst all the ‘business’ it’s hard to find time for this, but a review of governance can help you to consider how you can be more efficient and more strategic.
A review can help you to develop your governance practices to ensure that you are compliant, managing risk, monitoring performance, understanding culture and developing longer term strategy. It will help you to answer questions such as:
- Do you have the right minds around the table?
- Do you have diversity of views?
- Is the right information being considered at the right time?
- Are the right benchmarks in place?
- Are the meetings working?
- Is there the right committee structure in place?
- Are there the right levels of consultation?
- How good is communication?
- Is there a culture of transparency?
Seeking an external review should not come from a fear of failure and noncompliance (most institutions will be compliant); it should be about aiming for best practice and governance that supports your institution to thrive in uncertain times.
Whether it’s time for a review (or not) maybe it’s time for a fresh view.
The Halpin Review team combines years of senior leadership knowhow with ‘boots on the ground’ experience, and we’re here to help you. Get in touch to find out more.