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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.

What is Academic Governance

Academic governance is the process by which there is oversight of the academic process within the institution. Typically, in higher education institutions (HEIs) and other providers, a dedicated structure exists to exercise academic governance which will inter-play with the structure for corporate governance.  

A variety of committees, largely populated by academics and student representatives, will exist throughout the institution often at module/course, department, faculty and HEI-wide levels. Eventually, these committees will build up to report to the Senate, Academic Board or equivalent, which in turn will culminate in its reporting to the HEI governing body  (where corporate and academic governance combine). 

For most Governors, their primary engagement with academic governance will naturally exist at the governing body level. This will be informed and shaped by what has gone on through the academic governance structure of the institution (through the committees, up to Senate/Academic Board or the equivalent and then up to the governing body).

Quality, Standards and Enhancement

Academic quality, according to the UK Quality Code, refers to how and how well the higher education provider supports students to enable them to achieve their awards. It covers learning, teaching and assessment, and all the different resources and processes a provider puts in place to help students progress and fulfil their potential.

Academic standards are the standards that individual degree-awarding bodies set and maintain for the award of their academic credit or qualifications. Within this, the threshold academic standard is the minimum acceptable level of achievement that a student has to demonstrate to be eligible for the award of academic credit or a qualification. For equivalent qualifications, the threshold level of achievement is agreed across the UK.  

Enhancement is the process by which higher education providers systematically improve the quality of provision and the ways in which students' learning is supported: a higher education provider has a responsibility to improve the quality of learning opportunities and to have policies, structures and processes in place to detect where improvement is necessary.   

Academic Assurance

There are a range of mediums through which governors receive academic assurance.  Funding Councils expect that governing bodies will receive an annual report bringing together the information they need to draw their own conclusions about quality, it’s enhancement and standards. The report on academic governance should note progress against key performance indicators or other measures, summarise external reviews and give a formal opinion on the quality of academic outcomes.

Data 

A range of data will be presented to the governing body. Some of this data will relate to quality and standards. Examples include NSS results, TEF outcomes, DLHE results, internal surveys, and student retention and completion data. Dashboard-style reporting can provide governors with the data they need in a readily accessible format.

Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) 

Most universities and colleges will offer provision leading to the qualifications and membership of PSRBs. Governors will need to be aware of these connections and to be informed about the relationship, particularly if accreditation is removed or under threat.  

External examiner reports 

Summary reports of external examiners reports are sometimes presented to the governing body and may be of interest, particularly if there are thematic issues arising.  

Minutes 

Minutes and accompanying papers from other committees related to academic provision (including Senate/Academic Board) will be presented to the governing body. Verbal updates – reports given from members of the provider who have insight into the academic performance. Reports will come from a variety of sources including governing body members (e.g. Vice-Chancellor/Head of Institution, staff governors, student governors), invited members of university staff and presentations.    

Additional information

Key organisations for new Governors

There are several key organisations for new Governors to be aware of, especially when considering their institutions academic processes.
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Key terms in academic assurance

There are several key terms for new Governors to be aware of, especially for those joining a board from outside of higher education.
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Find out more about Academic Governance

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