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Expectations and aspirations: how do data, metrics and evidence enable the Board?

05 Oct 2022 | Kim Ansell Kim Ansell, Assistant Director Governance (Interim), discusses the value of robust data for governing bodies in supporting effective decision-making and highlights some of the related themes and conversations planned for Advance HE’s upcoming Governance conference, 24 November.

William Edwards Deming’s famous quote, “Without data you’re just another person with an opinion”, serves well to remind us of the value of data. Governing bodies too will be looking to seek assurance that the data and information they receive enables them to hold the senior executive of the institution to account, and to govern for the needs, interests and expectations (NIEs) of students and other key stakeholders. ( I also explore NIE’s in an earlier blog.)

Context is everything; and governing bodies will be looking to take stock of developments in the sector and institutional landscape to help determine what data and information is relevant, important and useful for decision making: for example, the recent announcement that HESA has been de-designated and that it will merge with JISC may offer opportunities; and in the meantime the OfS plans a step change in what it measures for ongoing HE Registration in relation to B3 indicators for student outcomes; and UUK has published a paper on assessing quality and the REF evaluations have been announced. The governing body has an obligation to make sense of all this information in the context of the institution in which it is governing.

The power of a simple and well-targeted statistic or measure with a strong narrative is compelling in supporting effective Board decisions, without the governing body becoming bogged down in reams of paper and a myriad of data. However, in higher education there are increasingly specific duties for Boards to satisfy themselves of, including academic assurance as well many other aspects of student and staff experience. A recent Advance HE ‘Governance Practice’ survey of governors and governance professionals (43 respondents) told us that governing bodies 'lack confidence' about responding to developments within the regulatory environment. This suggests that governing bodies feel vulnerable about conformance issues and feel exposed if presented with over simplistic data or inadequate evidence. 


At Advance HE, we're are asking, with the help of others:

  • How are governing bodies enabled through data, information and evidence, to govern in the interests of students?
  • What do governing bodies really need to inform and influence decision making?
  • How can they make sense of performance and conformance in relation to the strategy, understand the risks, and offer assurance of the student experience and outcomes? 

I will be discussing this at the Advance HE Governance Conference on the 24 November and am delighted to be joined by sector experts to explore, debate and challenge:

  • Andy Youell, Executive Director – Regulation, University College of Estate Management, will be exploring the expectations of conformance and compliance and suggests, “Governors and governance professionals need to consider how can we engage with data in a proportionate and meaningful way, using information, metrics and evidence to assure student experience and outcomes”. 

    Taking a step back, Andy will reflect on what we can get from data and challenge us as a sector to consider whether we really have the capability and skills needed to provide what the Board needs.

  • Alison Allden, Deputy Chair of Regent’s University Ltd London, will ask us to apply that thinking in considering how the Board understands the student experience through both quantitative measures but with regard to qualitative insights. She will reflect on her role as a governor and asks, “how does a governing body aspire to govern in the interests of students?” by exploring what data, information and evidence really offer assurance and provide a convincing and holistic picture of the institution’s quality and performance.

  • Shabana Akhtar, Head of Business Intelligence, University of London, will share her experience of how strategic planning and IT are at the heart of how the institution can provide the information the governing body needs, clearly linked to the strategy and at the same time navigate the relationship with the regulator(s).  She says that, “time and capacity to translate data and analyse it should not be underestimated, creating a well evidenced and compelling narrative are key for both.” She will offer some practical examples with respect to B3 metrics, and information about lapsing students sharing her view of what good looks like.

In the interest of students, governing bodies are well advised to question what data they are getting and whether this provides relevant and holistic information which speak to student experience and student outcomes. They should to be guided and supported in this endeavour to ensure that relevant connections are made across the organisational strategy, for example if we do X here then Y happens over there, and to assure themselves that all decisions are underpinned by the institutions values and purpose.

We look forward to discussing this topic with you further at the conference. If you aren’t able to attend please join the conversation on twitter.

We look forward to discussing this topic with you further at the conference.  If you aren’t able to attend please join the conversation on twitter.

References: Understanding and engaging stakeholders in higher education – the Board’s role

Join us at the Governance Conference 2022 - Governing in the interests of students at BMA House, Central London, 24 November 2022


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