Introduction and overview
The Office for Students (OfS) has published new advice for governing bodies on their role in relation to access and participation plans. The advice has been issued as an online guide. At the same time OfS draw attention to the accompanying A to Z of effective practice in access and participation.
The OfS highlight that under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (HERA 2017), governing bodies are “responsible for overseeing the development of a provider’s access and participation plan and monitoring its performance.” Further, the regulatory framework requires providers to have “adequate and effective management and governance in place to comply with all conditions of registration, including access and participation.”
To effectively discharge their responsibilities, the OfS suggests the governing bodies need to be familiar with its approach to access and participation, and ensure that the provider’s plan meets the expectations set out in its guidance.
Compositions of governing bodies
The OfS argues that governing bodies “must consider if they have the knowledge and capacity to enable effective oversight of access and participation plans.” Citing a blog published by Advance HE (formerly the Leadership Foundation), OfS indicates that the composition of the governing body is a key factor in underpinning effective governance.
OfS believes governing bodies must contain the necessary expertise to examine specific areas of the provider’s work, have a diversity of membership and contain members who can engage with the teams responsible for developing the provider’s access and participation plan.
Key considerations for a governing body
Included in the OfS’ advice are seven questions for governing bodies to review to ensure they effectively discharging their responsibilities in regard to access and participation. These cover, for example:
• Understanding the provider’s current position on access and participation, including where are the biggest gaps and challenges;
• Assessing the provider’s aims, objectives and targets for access and participation; and
• The governing body’s role in monitoring and evaluating progress in achieving the provider’s plan.
OfS offers examples of the approaches, which providers have identified as assisting the effectiveness of the governing body in its work access and participation. These include:
• Governing body review and training; and
• Creation of a sub-committee with expertise in relation to access and participation.
OfS’s advice offers a reminder to governing bodies of their role and responsibilities in regard to access and participation. The advice may be read as a prompt for governing bodies to check that they have effective arrangements in place to exercise oversight of the provider’s access and development plan and its implementation.