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Governance Effectiveness Project on Academic Assurance: phase one summary

30 Jun 2023 | Dan Tinkler Advance HE Governance Development Manager, Dan Tinkler, summarises the first phase of a collaborative member benefit project between Advance HE, UUK, CUC and GuildHE which aims to convene the sector to understand shared challenges and approaches to academic assurance.
Logos of Advance HE, UUK, GuildHE and CUC

Over the course of the 2022/23 academic year Advance HE, Universities UK (UUK), GuildHE and the Committee of University Chairs (CUK) chose to work together as sector partners to undertake a Governance Effectiveness Project on Academic Governance designed to ensure effective academic assurance. This has been driven by the increased need for governors to understand and effectively receive evidence-based assurance about ‘student outcomes’ in England as a requirement from the Office for Students (OfS), but increasingly in other UK nations as part of their regulatory requirements. 

Phase one 

Governing bodies are expected to actively seek assurances that academic governance is robust and effective. This becomes ever-more important with the political interest in issues surrounding quality in higher education and ensuring value for money for public expenditure. The first phase of the project has provided the opportunity to convene the sector to explore emerging practices in academic governance and assurance within the higher education sector. 


As part of the project three online roundtables were held in March with representatives from a diverse range of higher education institutions across the UK, including research intensive universities, post-92 teaching-focused providers, small and specialist and independent providers. The roundtables were split by role to hear from key stakeholders and compromised: 

  1. Governance Professionals 

  1. Members of Senate and Student Representatives 

  1. Chairs and Deputy Chairs of Audit and Risk 

Each roundtable had between 20-30 participants who were asked to take part in scenarios in small breakout rooms.  

Dissemination event 

A joint event on 25 May shared the findings with the sector to conclude phase 1 of this project. The following six key themes emerged over the course of the three roundtables: 

  1. Increasing focus from governing bodies on academic governance and assurance with a view on student outcomes 

  1. Council and Senates (or equivalent) are interacting more beyond the annual report 

  1. Audit and Risk Committee is important and playing an increasing role in ensuring effective structures and mechanisms in place 

  1. Governors require a broader range of knowledge over functions of the university and experiences to seek assurance  

  1. Governors from non-HE backgrounds, corporate or charity leadership and governance, struggle with understanding academic governance and academics often don’t understand corporate governance 

  1. Student Governors are a key link between academic and corporate governance 

Phase two 

The sector partners have all agreed to undertake further work and develop a second phase of this project to be delivered in the 2023/24 academic year, continuing our support to the HE sector by ensuring effective academic assurance. This is to include developing a set of guiding principles or reflective questions that boards can use to develop their own academic assurance; collecting and collating case studies that can be shared back with the sector; developing further training and resources and seeking to grow communities of practice. Further details will be announced over the course of 2023/24. 


Dan works on developing our approach to supporting Advance HE’s member needs across our governance portfolio of work. He has also undertaken governance effectiveness reviews leading projects with students’ unions. Prior to this, he worked with supporting leaders in college HE, independent providers and specialist institutions.

Join us at our Governance Conference 2023: Governance Culture: Navigating policy, politics and people’, 23 November 2023, De Vere Grand Connaught Rooms in London. 

This year, Advance HE is celebrating 20 years leading and supporting effective governance in HE. Culture is the key factor that underpins effectiveness no matter what the operating context throws at higher education providers. With that in mind, the 2023 conference will look at board culture through the lens of navigating policy, politics and people. We will reflect on what the past 20 years has sharpened our focus on, as well as look ahead to the prospect of further governmental and regulatory change in order to stimulate thinking on how healthy board culture can thrive to benefit all.  


We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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