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Turning governance around

02 Jul 2019 | When significant failings in governance become public, turning things around can require decisive action. Information on the actions that are being taken by De Montfort University, offers a case example of what can be required.

Background 

De Montfort University (DMU) has issued a public statement and associated action plan showing how it is addressing a number of failings in the University’s governance, which came to light in early 2018. 

The changes to the University’s governance are set within a wider change to institutional culture aimed at rebuilding trust with staff and students.

As a result of information provided to the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator used its statutory powers to commence a detailed and thorough investigation of a number of issues affecting the governance and management of DMU that it had been made aware of. Subsequent co-operation by DMU with OfS and the publication of a public statement and association action plan has led to OfS closing their investigation.

The public statement issued by DMU acknowledges “that its governance was inadequate and that the Governing Body did not provide sufficient and robust oversight of the University’s leadership, in particular the Vice-Chancellor.”

Action plan

The public statement contains a summary of the actions that the University is taking to improve its governance, with the accompanying action plan providing further detail. Actions listed include:

  • use of a revised and more robust recruitment process to appoint new independent governors (an example of a way to do this would be our Board Vacancies Portal – find more about this here
  • ensuring in future the term for independent governors does not exceed the “convention of three terms of three years”
  • putting in place a more rigorous process for members of the Executive Board and Board of Governors to identify potential conflicts of interest 
  • for the Chair of the Board to conduct formal appraisals of all Governors, and set objectives in line with sector best practice
  • creation of a summary document for governors detailing the obligations for governors individually, and the board of governors collectively
  • revision of the University’s instrument and articles of government to ensure they provide the Board of Governors with a fit for purpose framework to carry out its role and take decisions
  • in addition to a comprehensive internal induction programme, a mandatory requirement for Governors to attend external training around the role and remit of higher education boards
  • to immediately commission an independently led, detailed review of the effectiveness of the Board of Governors and the University’s wider governance and policy processes, with a further and subsequent review being repeated two years later (see more on governance effectiveness reviews)
  • revisiting Governor remuneration in the light of the prevailing circumstances, and considering whether the retention of remuneration for specific Governor roles remains in the best interests of the University 
  • Governors not at this stage being permitted to undertake paid consultancy for the University
  • changing the line management arrangements for the Clerk to the Board, to increase their independence in the role 
  • pursuit of transparent and open recruitment to advertise for, and appoint, a new Chair of the Board of Governors 
  • appointing a permanent Vice-Chancellor only after the new Chair is in post

Overview

The information contained in the action plan shows that DMU has already begun the process of rejuvenating its culture and governance. For example, there have already been significant changes to the composition of the governing body, with further changes planned. Nevertheless, the scale and scope of the actions highlight the extent of the change.

Applicability to other governing bodies

While many of the actions being pursued by DMU are context-specific, they offer a checklist for governors and governance professionals of other institutions to consider.

Advance HE has a wealth of resources that support institutions to deliver effective governance. Find out more information here.

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