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Academic Governance

The essential requirement for a successful set of arrangements is the development of a culture within the leadership team of openness, trust and respect. In our view, there needs to be an integrated and embedded culture that understands and accepts different duties in that part of institutional life where corporate and academic governance meet. Culture sits at the heart of the six enablers set out in the enablers section below, and the culture described in the case studies was present (although to variable extents) across the institutions that participated in this review.

Culture and the enablers

The essential requirement for a governing body to be successful in its academic governance role is a culture within the members and the leadership team of openness, trust and respect. The following areas of development represent the key enablers of effective governor oversight of teaching and learning:


Respect for different roles in academic oversight. This enables an awareness of distinct academic governance roles, namely the governing body; academic board/senate; Vice-Chancellor or Principal; and senior management.


Reports tailored for non-academic lay readers. This enables a reporting culture that delivers documents that are meaningful, relevant, comprehensible and useful to governing bodies in undertaking their scrutiny of academic governance; proper governing body activity; and effective recording of discussions and decisions.

Effective engagement

Effective engagement with the student and staff voice. This enables effective engagement with the student voice in academic governance, particularly at governing body level; and similarly with elected staff governors.


Understanding of academic life by lay members. This enables a deep understanding by governing bodies, especially lay or independent members – of academic life, its language and processes.


Information supplied in a digestible form. This enables the provision of data and information that is clear, accurate, timely and reliable, and appropriate to the governing body's role in academic governance.


Academic expertise

Academic expertise amongst the lay membership. This enables the balancing of academic knowledge and experience with other skill sets amongst the governing body’s lay or independent membership.

Culture sits at the heart of all six enablers and this culture was present across the institutions that participated in a review exploring how governing bodies were engaging with academic assurance within their institutions. We have published a range of guidance and case studies from our research.

Reviewing Academic Governance in higher education: a framework

This Framework sets out some key factors for the consideration of academic governance effectiveness and is intended as a tool to support higher education institutions (HEIs) and Further Education Colleges (FECs) delivering higher education in their own effectiveness reviews. It draws on work by Advance HE and Committee of University Chairs (CUC).

The Framework has been developed to guide managers and governing bodies as they seek to review the effectiveness of academic governance. Members of governing bodies in all higher education providers need to have confidence in academic governance given that they now have a specific duty to provide academic assurance – an assurance that requires members to rely on the institution’s academic governance arrangements.

Download the framework

Academic Governance Reviews

Our framework is the basis for our Academic Governance Reviews. We provide an external perspective for institutions looking to undertake a review of their academic governance provision.

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Review on behalf of the funding bodies

Insights Guide

We published the Insight Guide on governing body responsibility for academic governance in September 2017. This followed a review undertaken on behalf of the funding bodies HEFCE (now OfS), HEFCW and DfE NI which sought to understand and evaluate current practice and to provide support for governing body development. Universities and further education colleges in England, Northern Ireland and Wales were visited as part of our fieldwork.  

Download the Guide

Case studies

The Insight Guide includes selected cameos of institutional good practice drawn from the full set of case studies from our fieldwork, the full case studies are also available for download here

Download the case studies

Additional information

Academic Governance for new Governors

Every sector develops terminology which is specific to their needs, and higher education is no different. For many new Governors, getting to grips with some of this specialised language can take some time. This brief guide intends to help new Governors acclimatise to some of the language, acronyms and terminology relevant to academic governance in UK higher education.
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Practical advice to support the governing body with academic assurance

In light of the need to give academic assurance, we have created a list of practical advice.
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Getting to Grips Guide

The Getting to Grips guides provide a comprehensive introduction and overview of key areas of higher education and the responsibilities of governors. Getting to Grips guides are available to Advance HE Members only.

If you are new to HE, you may be struck that decisions on academic and student issues seldom appear to be made by governing bodies, and you might wonder how – and if – governors should be involved. You will not be alone, and all new governors are confused at some time about 'who does what' when it comes to academic decision making.
Download the guide

Illustrative Practice Notes

In partnership with the Committee of University Chairs (CUC), we have developed an Illustrative Practice Note on a the role of the remunerations committee to support governors and share practice from governing bodies throughout the UK.
Download the Illustrative Practice Note

Find out more about Governance