Lessons from Higher Education Insights

On her second day at the Leadership Foundation, Alice Hargreaves, senior marketing and communications coordinator attended our Higher Education Insights programme for leaders new to the sector. In the run up to the April 2018 cohort of the programme, she reflects on the impact the programme had on her as a participant. 

When I joined the Leadership Foundation last May I had only worked in a university briefly while overseas, so had little understanding of the context in which higher education sat here in the UK. As well as meeting new colleagues who I would be working alongside, Higher Education Insights provided me with the opportunity to better understand the complexities, nuances, and politics in the UK.

Start with why

In order to understand where the sector is now and where it is going it is of course vital to know where we have come from. One of the first sessions of the day summarised the history of higher education and how this history has shaped it in a way that is different in other parts of the world.

I like the analogy that Christine Abbott recently used in her blog post about this sector being much like a tube system where sometimes it is hard to know how we got to where we are and feel that this session really went some way towards answering this.

Learning from others

I’m a natural networker so found the opportunity to sit and work with a small table of new faces really exciting. I learnt about roles in the sector I didn’t even know existed and also learnt about private universities which I must admit I had been unaware of previously. I was sat with someone from Regent’s University and found the opportunity to ask direct questions about the differences in their student body and how they operated fascinating.

Having the opportunity to get to know the challenges colleagues are also new to the sector faced was a fantastic way of better understanding how a range of universities worked (including pre and post 1992 as well as private universities), and how different the experiences were for professional services staff vs academic staff. It struck me how open my table were to discussion and it spurred me on to apply to take part in Aurora.

The shape of the sector, right here, right now

I found the talk hosted by Nicky Old, director of communications and external relations at Universities UK a fantastic way to understand policy changes. Nicky explained who Universities UK were, who the sector is, and who the key decision makers are. In May 2017, we were just a month away from a general election, and the big issue facing UK universities was the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) as well as the ongoing repercussions following Brexit. Gaining information so relevant and of the time was invaluable. When the TEF results were released some six weeks later I could much better understand the context and how this might impact universities.

Now, having worked in the sector a bit longer I am able to see how things develop over time but this really put me into the here and now, or rather the then and there.

The many faces of higher education

Knowing much more about the Leadership Foundation and our programmes and events now than I did last May, Higher Education Insights truly is a unique opportunity to meet the many faces of the sector. As well as the range of participants it attracts the speakers had a huge range of perspectives and experiences. As well as voices from the Leadership Foundation and Universities UK I was lucky enough to hear from; a futurist from JISC, a dean from Canterbury Christchurch, a student engagement consultant from The Student Engagement Partnership and an ex NUS president.

The day really buoyed up my enthusiasm for my new role and it was reassuring to know I was not the only person so new to the sector. The day I think is equally as valuable for someone brand new to the sector, as someone who has simply been stuck underground in the tube system of higher education for two long and needs to reconnect and get up to date with the ever changing environment that we are faced with.

Higher Education Insights will take place on Tuesday 17 April 2018 in London. Nicky Old, director of communications and external relations, Universities UK and Ellie Russell, student engagement consultant, National Union of Students will return as contributors to this year’s programme. Find out more: www.lfhe.ac.uk/heinsights

Alice Hargreaves is a senior marketing and communications coordinator specialising in promoting our programmes for senior leaders and equality and diversity, including our acclaimed Aurora programme. 

Know thyself!

After three years and six iterations of the Leadership Foundation’s innovative blended learning programme, Transition to Leadership (TTL), programme director Stuart Hunt reflects on what he has learned and why he believes the programme is so well received by participants.

When we were working on the design of the TTL programme, we were very keen to make sure that it included two elements that are not often seen in open, introductory level programmes of this kind. We have three days face-to-face and about the same amount of time for online and on-the-job learning activities, and we wanted to make the most of this time. We did not want to lecture too much (and we don’t!), nor did we want the programme to involve a lot of reading (there’s plenty, but only limited to Must Read material), but we did want some clear structure with a real chance of participants holding onto some key ideas and actually putting these into practice.  The two elements described below are what emerged from our extended development phase to help achieve these ambitions.

Co-creation
The first approach was that we wanted the process to be one of co-creation. Sure, we provide theoretical grounding and effective models for participants to review and build on, but we also take advantage of the blended and extended nature of the programme to task participants with co-designing and co-presenting their own understandings and applications of leadership based around their own experiences.

This concept of the ‘flipped’ classroom, with participants leading presentations and fielding questions from colleagues lends itself well to the culture of learning in higher education, with typically independent-minded colleagues having the opportunity to explore, challenge, and occasionally provoke, as well as to provide mutual support and personal reflection. It also provides ample opportunity for colleagues to explore the second key theme, that is self-knowledge and with it the great boon of flexibility.

Self-knowledge
Throughout the programme, we ask participants to reflect on their own styles, their own preferences, what they admire in others, what they bring to leadership that is helpful and where they may need the support of colleagues. We do not encourage participants to aim to become that which they are not. We want them to know what they are really good at and what motivates them, and to consciously seek to demonstrate these attributes to colleagues with whom they work. It is only when we know ourselves that we are in any position to deliberately choose to modify our behaviour and to become really skilful leaders. And thus the programme is filled with diagnostics, self-assessments and structured self-reflection activities, plus face-to-face and online discussions to help people understand that others may have very different perspectives.

Enhanced understanding of self
So, the content of TTL is great and I think well balanced, and this is supported by good design, but the real benefit of our programme for participants is the co-creation of understanding based on the perspective of our lived realities, together with a genuinely enhanced understanding of ourselves. Together these approaches combine to enable participants to make choices, so that they can sometimes ‘flex’ from their places of strength in order to be better able to support the needs of others with whom they work.

The programme continues to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of higher education leaders, however the core of the programme remains tried and tested as a foundation for new leaders. I am genuinely proud of this programme.

The next run of Transition to Leadership will being on Monday 19 March 2018 and run through until Tuesday 26 June 2018. Click here to find out more about what the programme has to offer. 

Stuart Hunt is an independent consultant and has been a key associate of the Leadership Foundation since its inception. He is currently co-director for the Transition to Leadership programme. Stuart is also currently supporting a major cultural change initiative across Ukrainian Higher Education.

Diversity – are universities sincerely up for change?

Ahead of our second Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat, Simon Fanshawe, Leadership Foundation associate and partner at Diversity by Design, shares his thoughts on the need to advance diversity by thinking about the culture within institutions more broadly. The Retreat is an innovative 24 hour immersion that challenges senior leaders to redesign recruitment, promotion and staff and Board assessment processes in order to diversify their workforce and governance in order to get the most out of the talent in their institution.

There is much high level evidence that shows the value in having a diverse workforce in our universities (McKinsey 2015 etc). It is increasingly clear however that for diversity to be truly valuable it has to be articulated in terms that are specific to our subjects and fields of passion. For instance,

  • There is a richness in English literature at the moment much of which comes from the great writing in English by authors who are not English. To reflect that global depth in literature how do we diversify our English Department staff culturally?
  • With an aging population, we need to redesign how we use space and localities at home, at work and in the public realm. Diversity will vastly enrich disciplines such as design, structural engineering, and planning if we engage staff who face challenges to their mobility and can draw on their own experiences of the world.
  • If health provision needs to be more preventative how does research and treatment relate to and communicate with increasingly diverse populations? If Population Medicine is to become the norm, how will that challenge the ‘expertise’ of medical professionals who will need to understand people’s direct experience of health and how will that require a wider diversity of people in the management of medicine and health services?
  • If the axis of the world is moving east, what cultural and ethnic combinations of staff do we need in the study of world economic and shifting geopolitical forces to gain real understanding for students and research?

Change and adapt

I heard a vice-chancellor give an inaugural lecture the other day. She identified six ‘couplets’ which both helped and hindered universities to change and adapt.

Three of them particularly resonated with the work we have done on diversity in universities over the recent past:

  1. Universities have a long and distinguished sense of their tradition. But as they draw on this to produce a richness in academic research and teaching, it also produces a conservatism and risk averseness. When we propose a way of assessing candidates for recruitment or promotion so that those that are choosing the candidate are more able to assess the evidence, with their unconscious biases designed out, it always strikes us how much gentle persuasion we have to use against very traditional push back. Academics seem reluctant to change. In the trials we have been doing in universities; leadership, advocacy, and determination for change has been invaluable.
  2. She coined a phrase to describe the internalised cultures that grow up in all organisations, but specifically in universities. She called it: “normalised weirdness”. It struck me that typical university recruitment and promotion continues to be accompanied by expressions of the desire for change, yet with minimal results in the diversity of applicants, those shortlisted and eventually appointed. Such a poor return on the investment of effort would, in any of the fields of study of the same academics, lead to depressing conclusions on the evidence and a radical change in the approach to the solutions. But, instead, the lack of change in the diversity outcomes is rationalised by the “normalise weirdness” of arguing that there is a trade-off between diversity and excellence. And that despite the lack of diversity, universities are nonetheless recruiting and promoting the “best person for the job”.
  3. And her third (out of six) was a strange (my adjective, not hers) fear of experimentation, which is justified implicitly by an idea of “expertise”. There is an underlying sense that the acknowledged expertise in their field necessarily leads academics particularly to the make the right judgements. Even when the fact of clearly less diverse outcomes show clearly that the processes of recruitment and promotion are failing to draw on and boost the full range of potential talent, and instead continue to advantage hugely one group of staff. The poor diversity results nonetheless leave the claims to expertise unexamined and unchallenged.

Our response

The pace of change in diversifying our governing bodies is also slow and there is a need to look at the underlying reasons of this. This Retreat aims to provide that opportunity in a collegiate and collaborative atmosphere to develop practical solutions which will diversify staff and Board/Council members. It will run on separate and interlinking strands. Bringing together both representatives from the executive and the Board/Council, we will give participants time to work on questions which are within the separate remits of governance and the executive. And then there will be space for both to come together to look at whole institution responses

Built on these principles, the 24 hour Retreat will offer space to:

  1. Examine the latest research on diversity – the reasons for the relative lack of progress, issues in selection, questions around bias and how to design it out, high performing teams – and apply it to the specific needs of your institution.
  2. Hear examples from the work of Leadership Foundation and Diversity by Design in universities – what has worked, where change needs to happen in processes and the hurdles to overcome.
  3. Develop some practical solutions (in governance and operation) for your institution, working with colleagues from other universities.
  4. Lead even more effectively on diversity.
  5. Reflect on how diversity can drive the core functions of a university – teaching, research, student experience and impact on the world – regionally, nationally and globally

In conclusion, the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat has been designed to create a significant difference in how universities can benefit from practical diversity strategies. A huge amount of goodwill and good work is taking place in universities, and this programme seeks to build upon that through the energising of senior executives and governors to enhance their knowledge and tools to support the creation and development of long lasting change.

How to book
The second run of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat will take place in April. Designed for senior leaders and governors it is free to attend. The one-day intensive programme will be delivered by Simon Fanshawe OBE, former chair of University of Sussex, and Roy Hutchins, former director of Astar Management Consultants Ltd, alongside Vijaya Nath, director of leadership development at the Leadership Foundation, and Roger Kline, research fellow at Middlesex University and an associate of Public World. For more information or to book your place online, use this link: EDI April 2018

This is one of three blogs that we shall be publishing in the coming weeks by the leads of our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Retreat

Financial literacy for strategic managers: a simple solution

business workplace

Melvyn Keen, programme director of the Leadership Foundation’s Strategic Finance Programme dissects the importance of financial literacy for strategic leaders, in the context of Hefce’s recent annual review of the health of the higher education sector.

According to Hefce’s annual review of the higher education sector’s financial heath, university finances continue to be sound overall but there is a “widening gap between the lowest and highest performing institutions.” Do you know if your institution is at the right end of that gap?  How do you work out where it sits? Do you understand how your institution’s strategy is improving its financial sustainability?

While Hefce’s financial reviews are doubtless required reading for your institution’s finance directors, it’s probably not the case for other senior managers. Even if they do glance at them, they might not feel confident that they really have a firm grasp on what they mean – and what the impact is for your institution.

Yet a clear understanding of the figures is crucial to good strategic decision-making. Senior leaders need to understand how their institution’s finances stack up and how sustainable they are in order to plan, grow and strengthen.

At the Leadership Foundation we recognised this need and developed our Strategic Finance programme specifically to demystify financial reviews and forecasts for senior managers without a background in finance.

The Strategic Finance programme will help you to understand how you can develop a picture of an organisation’s financial sustainability. Just as Hefce does with its financial forecasts review, we look at (and, more importantly, explain) sustainability through surpluses, cash generated from those surpluses, levels of borrowing, sources of capital funding and other measures. We explain how reserves are accumulated, what they represent and what the impact of large pension deficits in the sector (and beyond) might be.

Once you understand what contributes to financial sustainability and how these measures relate to each other, the next step is to develop a better understanding of the impact of strategic decisions on an institution’s finances. The programme looks at some simple financial decision-making tools to assess resource planning and capital investments.

The Hefce review tells us that levels of borrowing across the sector are predicted to rise from £8.9 billion at the end of 2015-16 to £11.7 billion by the end of 2019-20.   As a strategic decision-maker, you need to understand how much your institution can borrow, if it needs to, where from and what the implications could be. We take a look at the different types of borrowing out there, how you judge if an institution can afford to borrow and what banks and the funding bodies are looking at when assessing that affordability.

Building senior managers’ financial and legal literacy is critical if they are to operate confidently in higher education’s complex area of financial resourcing. It’s worth having a glance at Hefce’s review and assessing if you’ve got the right tools for the job to decode it.

After working for Price Waterhouse, Andersen Consulting and as Interim Finance Director at the University of Cambridge, Melvyn Keen moved to Middlesex University as Director of Finance. In his 13 years at Middlesex University Melvyn went on to become Deputy Vice-Chancellor and held the position of Deputy Chief Executive before moving on to set up his own consultancy practice.

The Strategic Finance Programme is for senior executive leaders who are looking to demystify the complexities of university finances. Previous attendees of the programme have included deputy vice-chancellors, pro vice-chancellors, deans, heads of school and professional service departments and directors.

Taking place over two, two-day modules with additional coaching and online learning, the next cohort of the programme will start on 26 February 2018 in Greater London. Find out more and book a place here: Leadership Foundation Strategic Finance Programme

5 steps to managing uncertainty

‘Managing uncertainty’ is a recurring and challenging aspect of leadership. Following his presentation at our recent governance conference, we asked Garry Honey of Better Boards, to summarise his 5-steps approach for governing bodies.

Uncertainty is a challenge for management boards and governing bodies within higher education

Acronyms like TUNA (turbulent-uncertain-novel-ambiguous) or VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) have been used to qualify new turbulent or volatile environments in which decisions need to be made. It is no coincidence that the key words ‘uncertainty’ and ‘ambiguity’ occur in both acronyms. The question we try to answer is – how should higher education leaders manage uncertainty to best advantage?

A governing body has a distinctly different role from a management board, yet there are some aspects shared by both. The most significant is having a vision of the future and making decisions around strategy and risk within the context of an environment containing uncertainty. Managing uncertainty is a leadership challenge.

An active approach

The first step towards managing uncertainty is to adopt an active approach to reducing risk which involves rejecting the traditional risk matrix based on probability and impact. This standard approach to risk management can be worse than useless as it can lead to misplaced confidence that all risks are known and understood; it ignores the fact that problems for organisations generally have multiple causes rather than a single risk event. The approach also leads managers and boards to ignore risks which they think will have a low probability but which could have a disastrous result. Instead, re-profile risk based on different axes: ease of control and ease of prediction. This will enable the leadership to actively reduce risk, and determine specific actions to improve control or prediction – a real benefit.

What’s on the risk register?

The second step is to separate risk, which can be estimated and assessed, from uncertainty which is simply unknown. Many risk registers conflate the two yet there is a growing realisation that a separation can be helpful. It is a matter of determining whether there is sufficient information to determine an outcome, where there is not there is uncertainty. The risk register should focus on outcomes which can be measured, the remainder being uncertainties.

Four types of uncertainty

The third step is to appreciate the four different types of uncertainty ranging from known-knowns to unknown-unknowns. The distinction between known-unknowns (jigsaw-type) and unknown-knowns (library-type) is most critical as correct labelling will determine the most suitable response. In each case information needs to be gathered but the method and location will be different.

Setting up coping mechanisms

The fourth step is the coping mechanism to deal with different types of uncertainty and the resources required to secure and act on it. This is where the governing body needs to work with the management board to calculate the cost-benefit of reducing uncertainty, especially where in some cases forecasts and estimates will inevitably be the more prudent option.

Avoid groupthink: be brave

The fifth and final step in managing uncertainty is to eliminate misplaced certainty. This is the human element inherent in cognitive bias and assumptions. This is challenging the conventional wisdom and beliefs that can render a board too complacent for sound judgement: anchoring, referencing, confirmation bias, over optimism, risk aversion, cognitive dissonance and groupthink.

Effective governance and leadership requires collective responsibility, yet a board is comprised of a disparate group of individuals so achieving this can be difficult. Improving board effectiveness is not simply a matter of getting the right people or processes, but of securing the right mind-set around the table. Judgement is the framework in which decisions are made collectively so this needs to be well-informed and free from prejudice. Bravery is needed to challenge some assumptions.

Why is bravery important? Because forecasting the future is rarely accurate, a cynic will say there are only two types of forecast: lucky and wrong! Higher education faces uncertainties about success metrics. Historically measured by research excellence and global ranking, today universities are expected to perform in student satisfaction and alumni employability rankings. Many universities failed to achieve the rankings they expected in TEF, because their priorities are on research excellence and the funding this attracts. The resources for research are not the same as for teaching.

Bravery is also important in the governing body when it comes to defining value to other stakeholders, such as the Treasury or Government. Who in your remuneration committee will challenge a vice-chancellor salary award or suggest that staff morale should be a higher priority? Furthermore, how should a governing body view the recruitment of foreign students to courses because they pay higher fees and represent a lucrative income stream?

The biggest challenge for universities comes in the wake of the NAO report suggesting that the sector as a whole delivers poor value for money. A loan-based system has a very different dynamic to a grant-based one, creating ‘customers’ who decide on the cost-benefit of a university education within the context of their career.  For the next generation student debt repayment could become a burden as big as mortgage repayment for ours. There is uncertainty about the purpose of higher education and hence how value is determined. There are 130 universities in the UK which, as one delegate commented ‘all operate the same strategy’. Is this sustainable?

Garry Honey is the co-founder of Better Boards, leadership advisors on governance and risk issues. He has worked with several universities and leading business schools together with his colleague and co-founder Paul Moxey. Better Boards works with governing bodies and leadership teams to help them implement this five step process to managing uncertainty. 

For more on the Leadership Foundation’s series of programmes and events for those working in governance in higher education, including our new Academic Governance resources visit: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance

 

Coaching: The advice I would give my younger self

In advance of the Transition to Leadership programme, which takes place this March,  Jean Chandler, programme director, shares her thoughts on coaching as a skill set, approaches to leading others, and her own leadership lessons.

As a young manager in the NHS in the late 1980s, I recall conversations with my late father (who was also a trade union representative), about the challenges I faced early in my management career. Although I felt confident that I had the answers to the challenges my team was facing, I did not have that same confidence addressing those senior to me with solutions, even though they were without the benefit of ‘proper’ management training scheme.

My dad tried to convince me of the benefit of listening first to ensure I understood the challenges of my senior colleagues, before wading in with my advice and latest management thinking. Unfortunately, my dad was up against it, I was on a mission and determined change the face of management and leadership in Support Services in the NHS.

Since that time in my early management career, and now in my role as programme director of Transition to Leadership, I understand the importance of having a coach when you are making the transition to leading and managing others like I had my dad. Coaching is therefore a key programme component as it is a really practical and useable skill, which has earned its place in my management & leadership toolkit.

Why coaching and what can it offer?

What is coaching?
Jonathan Passmore defines coaching as “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”

It is also about future potential and building self-awareness, responsibility and self-belief.  As a leader, building the self-belief of others has the potential to transform the relationship you have with that individual and their performance.

When is coaching useful?
Coaching is particularly useful for people when they are transitioning from one role to another. As coaching can help individuals (coachees) to be more aware of themselves and their impact on others. Coachees become more willing to take responsibility for and be able to respond to situations, and be better able to learn from their experience and increase their self-motivation.

As part of Transition to Leadership, participants also learn about a coaching approach to leading via Daniel Goleman’s research on the six distinct leadership styles and, why a coaching leadership style is recognised as one of the most positive leadership styles. Participants also have the chance to practice coaching skills face-to-face and as part of the programme’s online peer coaching groups.

Once you understand the fundamental principles of what coaching is and, adopt a framework for a coaching discussion, it becomes essentially an exercise in attending to and listening deeply to the coachee to better understand them. To learn to not advise or give answers but to acknowledge that people are inherently resourceful and have the knowledge, insight and motivation within to make a decision.

This is something that we don’t always deploy as we have been schooled to believe we should have and that we must be the expert given our role or status.

I came to coaching quite late in my career, in my mid-40s but how I wish that as a young manager and leader I had listened to the advice of my dad or others to understand there is a better way to do this. I would have then learnt to develop key leadership attributes including listening deeply through asking helpful questions and attending to and allowing others in my team to personally develop while feeling supported with their particular challenges.

I also realise that as a young manager the challenges I found in trying to better connect and understand those I managed, could have been solved by adopting a more coaching approach to leading. This is something I hope that Transition to Leadership, with its focus on coaching and a coaching approach to leading, can help develop for others.

Personally, I apply the skills I have gained through coaching in many aspects of my working and personal life whether it be my ongoing challenges with my teenage son and his life choices about education and the future, or a close friend facing a personal crisis, I ask myself how can I help here? Is it to be in the moment and attend to their issue primarily or what question might help to reframe this or help to look at things a bit differently? I really try not to be the expert or give advice. It invariably does help both them and myself feel that we have made some progress and that they are choosing the best option for themselves.

So, the one piece of advice I would have given my younger self, apart from my dad was probably right about “that guy,” would have been to take his advice and listen hard, seek to understand and ask helpful questions to unearth the inner resourcefulness that we all possess when it comes to our challenges at work and elsewhere in life; to keep myself out of the way and support and enable others to find their own answers.

Jean Chandler is the associate director for membership in Scotland and contributes to a number of other Leadership Foundation programmes. Jean is also a qualified Institute of Leadership and Management level 7 executive coach with coaching experience both within and outside higher education. Get in touch with Jean, jean.chandler@lfhe.ac.uk 

Transition to Leadership is our blended leadership development programme for those who are new to leadership and looking to influence change. The next run of Transition to Leadership will run from Monday 19 March – Tuesday 26 June 2018 with face to face sessions taking place in Birmingham.

Find out more: www.lfhe.ac.uk/ttl

11 Key Insights from Higher Education Governors



Following the recent launch of our updated Framework for Supporting Governing Body Effectiveness Reviews, Helen Baird discusses some of the findings emerging from analysis of survey data from our governing body effectiveness reviews, and outlines our new comparative analysis and insight service. 

Last year we reviewed and updated the Framework for considering the effectiveness of higher education governing bodies. The drivers for the review were changes to higher education governance since the Framework was first introduced in 2010, broader sectoral developments and the evolution of ideas on good governance more generally.

The main conclusion from our research with the sector was that the three elements of the Framework remain an effective basis for considering governing body effectiveness. These are enablers of effective governance (processes), working relationships and behaviours, and outcomes of an effective governing body. We also found that as well as looking internally at their own governance, universities would value better comparative information to assess the relative effectiveness of their governing bodies and learn from peers. However, they required meaningful information and insights, rather than simply comparisons of what can be easily measured, such as size or composition of governing bodies.

Consequently, the Leadership Foundation has developed a new and unique comparative analysis and insight service, making use of the growing dataset we are building from the anonymised results of surveys as part of effectiveness reviews we undertake. As our new dataset develops, there will be potential to add other more ‘descriptive’ data from providers or from that collected by HESA, to enable more sophisticated analysis to benefit the sector and individual universities.

While our current dataset is relatively small at present, early analysis (carried out by Kay Renfrew, a Leadership Foundation associate consultant) has enabled us to produce some emerging findings which are worth sharing. These should be treated with caution and they will be subjected to further testing and analysis as the dataset grows. Some notable findings from surveys of 232 governors within eight institutions are as follows.

  1. While in some areas questions remain, there is almost universal agreement amongst the governors surveyed that there is a genuine and shared commitment by the governing body and the executive to ensure effective governance.
  2. There are variations in the extent to which governing bodies review their own performance and demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement, from a low of 60% of governors agreeing that this takes place at one institution to 92% in another. Governors in small institutions (65%) were less likely to agree that this takes place, compared with those at medium-sized or larger institutions (80% and 81%).
  3. Although there are high levels of agreement that there are effective arrangements in place for involving staff and students in the governing body, this view is more prevalent amongst lay and co-opted members (93% and 100%) than with staff and student members (83% and 80%).
  4. Staff members are less likely to agree that there are mechanisms in place to give the governing body confidence in the arrangements for monitoring the quality of teaching and learning. Only 67% of staff members agree with this statement, compared with 78% of lay members and 80% of student members. There is also variation between institutions in terms of their size, with governors in larger institutions more likely to agree this is the case (82%), than in medium or small institutions (62% and 69%).
  5. Governing bodies were confident there are mechanisms in place to enable assurance to be derived about financial stability, data integrity and value for money, with 100% of governors from four of the institutions agreeing this was the case. The lowest figure for an institution was 74%. However, there was variation between the views of lay and staff members with 93% of lay members agreeing compared with 78% of staff members.
  6. There was considerable variation in the views of lay and staff members that there are processes in place to ensure the recruitment of governing body members addresses equality and diversity requirements. While 90% of lay members agree, only 56% of staff members do.
  7. There is also variation at institutional level on whether recruitment, succession planning and reward is effectively undertaken, with only 56% agreeing in one institution and 92% at another. Lay members are more likely to agree this is the case than staff members, but the difference is less pronounced than in the case of equality and diversity.
  8. Individual institutions varied greatly as to whether the contribution of all members is reviewed regularly (lowest 35% of governors agreeing and highest 75%). Variation was also found in the responses as to whether regular performance reviews of the Vice Chancellor are undertaken. At one institution only 54% of governors agreed, rising to 92% at another (although at most institutions under 70% agreed).
  9. Most governors agreed that the governing body was provided with reliable and up-to-date information to ensure it is fully informed of its legal and regulatory responsibilities. However, they were less convinced that there is effective communication between the governing body and key stakeholder bodies. In one institution only 46% agreed, with the highest percentage agreeing reaching 83%. While staff and lay members had similar levels of agreement (78% and 74%), only 33% of student members agreed.
  10. There is also variation at institutional level on whether the governing body actively reviews the extent to which existing corporate governance arrangements will be appropriate to meet long term strategic plans, ranging from 45% of governors agreeing at one institution to 90% at another. Lay members are more likely to agree than staff members, and in this case small sized institutions are most likely to agree.
  11. It seems existing arrangements for academic governance to meet long term strategic plans are not reviewed in the same way as matters of corporate governance. In one institution only 36% agreed that they were reviewed, with the highest level of conformation being 75%. Lay members were slightly less likely to agree (61%) than staff members (67%). A higher percentage of respondents at large institutions agreed (72%) compared to medium (56%) or small institutions (53%).

In summary, it seems that not all institutions regularly undertake reviews of their own performance, including the contribution that individual members make. Similarly, there is variation in whether reviews of the vice chancellor’s performance or the quality of teaching and learning take place, or are reported to the governing body. There is however general agreement that governing body members are committed to effective governance, and that working relationships are in the main positive. Interestingly, the views of Lay and Staff governors can vary considerably. Overall, Staff members were less positive than Lay members, perhaps suggesting that they perceive the governing body to be less effective in its role.

Further analysis will be undertaken and the results disseminated as we develop our comparative analysis and insight service. For further information please visit www.lfhe.ac.uk/en/governance-new/governing-body-effectiveness/index.cfm

Helen Baird is a Managing Consultant in the Leadership Foundation’s strategic consultancy team and led the recent review and revision of the Framework for Supporting Governing Body Effectiveness Reviews.

Take a look at our next Governor Development Programme, Governance professionals in higher education for clerks, secretaries and staff in the professional support teams. The programme starts on Tuesday 5 December 2017, London. For more information, click here