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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 the following list of practical advice.

The following points may be helpful for lay or external Governors, especially those new to higher and further education understand academic assurance. This may also be helpful to staff and student Governors, governing body Secretaries and Clerks and senior managers.

1. Engage with academic matters

Engage with academic matters at each meeting and at other opportunities with staff and students throughout the year. Ask the governing body secretary or clerk to provide a brief summary of the year's coverage of teaching and learning assurance. Do not leave your engagement to the meeting which receives the annual assurance report to the governing body. Your institution’s calendar may well need to change to accommodate the business that the governing body and others need to deal with to ensure this matter is addressed in a timely manner.

2. Constructively challenge the advice and information you receive

The foundation of effective governance is mutual trust, respect and honesty – nevertheless, good governance requires that you constructively challenge the advice and information you receive from the head of institution on academic quality – and the advice and information you receive from the academic board or senate – which is operating under your delegated authority.

3. Consider opportunities to improve

Consider opportunities to strengthen and improve the quality of dialogue and interchange between your governing body and academic board or senate.

4. Consider advice from different perspectives

Consider advice from management alongside what students and staff are telling you, both governing body members and others. Remember that the student population will be diverse and that it will be important to hear what different groups feel about the institution: student representatives at governing bodies are often undergraduates but the postgraduate experience may be rather different.

5. Ensure that academic assurance is comprehensive

Ensure that academic assurance is comprehensive over the range of institutional provision. In this first year, good work has been done looking at the full-time undergraduate offer. Moving forward governors will want to consider getting assurance on all forms of provision – such as collaborative arrangements (both in the UK and internationally), postgraduate and part-time provision, and where appropriate, research degree activity. There are likely to be reviews of these areas of activity which governing bodies can see or be made aware of, perhaps by exception.

6. Consider your internal information alongside external/independent sources

Consider the information you receive internally alongside that from external/independent sources, e.g. from the institution's TEF submission and award, QAA or other reviews, accrediting bodies and external examiners. One potentially informative indicator could involve data from the Office of the Independent Adjudicator about unresolved student complaints.  This can be evaluated against internal data on the overall number and types of complaint.

7. Seek out the views of experienced peers

Seek out the views of any of your fellow Governors who have experience of higher education, but do not rely solely on these as all Governors should take an interest in these matters.

8. Pay attention to key data

Pay attention to year on year key data sets that relate to the student experience, noting where the institution sits against benchmarks, such as:
i. recruitment and average undergraduate tariff entry points
ii. drop-out rates and non-submission rates for research students
iii. degree classifications
iv. overall student satisfaction from NSS results and the results of postgraduate taught and research experience surveys
v. performance in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)

9. Make use of annual reports

As set out in the funding bodies’ specifications for annual assurance; require and scrutinise an annual report from management and/or the academic board or senate summarising the above key points.

10. Ensure that you are compliant with funding bodies’ assurance requirements

Overall, ensure that you have obtained information from all available sources and taken the time to consider it carefully, seeking advice where appropriate, and working in partnership with the head of institution as he or she manages academic operations. Take care to ensure that your board complies with the funding bodies’ assurance requirements and engages fully with annual and periodic review processes.

Additional resources

Academic Governance – Principles

To aid both students and the governance community, we have created a list of 12 principles to support effective student engagement in academic governance.
Download the 12 principals

Find out more about Academic Governance

Academic Governance