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Good Governance for a new normal

This year's virtual governance conference will take place on 20 November 2020.

This year’s digital conference will provide a forum to share practice and discuss the key governance issues arising as we face the first full academic year of higher education delivery during a global pandemic which has already created significant change in the way providers operate. Another key focus of the conference will be on how governance enables institutions to move forward embedding inclusivity in all that they do, in order to be truly fit for the future.

Anyone engaged in a governance role at a higher education provider is invited to attend, whether governor, Chair, secretary or clerk, a member of the executive team or another role related to governance. We welcome and encourage a diversity of perspectives to consider the key issues of the day. 

The conference will reflect the challenging times we are all facing and will provide a mixture of live keynote presentations, on-demand recordings as well as panel discussion and debate along with opportunities for virtual networking.


Date: 20 November 2020
Venue: Online
Who: Governors, professional support staff and policymakers

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Conference theme

This year, our virtual conference will focus on the theme 'Good Governance for a new normal'. It is designed for Governors of HEIs and members of the professional support teams who work with Governors and offers a forum to enable Governors, professional support staff and policymakers to share and discuss key and emerging areas of governance.

The conference will look beyond the sector, addressing practice, developments and insights and exploring whether and how these can be adopted in HE. With a mix of plenary, workshop and panel sessions the event offers an opportunity for those committed to professionalising governance to network with senior peers, engage with the issues of the moment and take new ideas and insights back to their institution.


Lord Simon Woolley CBE

Lord Simon Woolley CBE is the director and founder of Operation Black Vote (OBV), a commissioner for race on the Equality and Human Rights Commission and chair of the government's Race Disparity Unit’s advisory group.

OBV is non-partisan and not-for-profit national organisation that was established in 1996 to address the British black and ethnic minority democratic deficit. Focusing on voter registration, lobbying politicians and mentoring schemes, OBV aims to inspire black and minority ethnic communities to engage with public institutions to address the race inequalities in areas including education, health and employment.

Lord Woolley

Nicola Owen

Nicola Owen is the Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University. Together with the Director of Finance, she leads the Professional Services at Lancaster.

As Deputy Chief Executive (Operations), she is the Head of Administration and has responsibility for the following administrative divisions:
• Strategic Planning & Governance
• Recruitment, Admissions & International Development
• Facilities
• Human Resources and OED
• Information Systems Services
• Communications and Marketing
• Alumni and Development
• Research and Enterprise Services
• Student Based Services

She also has responsibility, working together with the Deans, via the Faculty Managers, for the effective operation of the administration across the faculties and academic departments. As Secretary she has responsibility for the operation of governance and support to Council as well as a number of other legal, governance and licensing roles.

Along with the above she also has oversight responsibility for the Capital Planning Programme at Lancaster University. Nicola has been elected to the position of Chair of the Association of Heads of University Administration a position she commenced on 1 April 2020 for a period of three years.

Nicola Owen

Professor Eunice Simmons

Eunice is currently Vice Chancellor at the University of Chester and has also previously worked in diverse institutions: Nottingham Trent University, University of London’s Wye and Imperial Colleges, UCLan and the University of Cumbria, in roles that included Course Leader, Head of School, Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Vice Chancellor. This has given her a sound understanding of how strategy and operation interlink - and how to build capacity for horizon-scanning and implementation in all of her teams.
A crucial part of her previous DVC role leading NTU’s Academic and Student Affairs directorate was to create the optimal conditions for innovation in all areas of practice. Recent team achievements include a significant apprenticeship portfolio with 170 companies and a curriculum refresh to embed inclusivity, sustainability and graduate outcomes in all courses.  Eunice ensured that NTU was the first university to sign the Social Mobility Pledge and, through this and co-leadership of the new TASO-HE evidence and impact exchange, she has encouraged Nottingham Trent  to strive for equality of opportunity and success for all of its students.

Eunice Simmons

James Aston MBE FCA

James is a partner and the National Head of Education at BDO LLP.   He has worked extensively in the education sector over the last 25 years and works across both the public and private sectors.

James has been the external audit partner for 22 universities over the last 15 years and oversees BDO’s ongoing engagement with over 60 HEIs, the OfS and the DfE.

James has enjoyed a number of personal appointments by various Secretaries of State (investigations / national matters) and he regularly undertakes investigations and assignments on ‘spot issues’ throughout the education sector.

James is nationally renowned (and sought out by government, private equity and the sector) for his work on governance, data assurance and strategy.  He understands the education sector, and its history, and is known for constructively challenging custom and practice and engaging with both government and the sector on developing and improving practices and resolving issues.

James was an independent member of HEFCE’s Audit Committee from 2003-2006 and the Teacher Training Agency’s Audit Committee from 2006-2009).  He is currently serving a second term as a member of Ofsted’s Audit & Risk Committee.

He was honoured with an MBE for ‘services to education and charity management’ (2002 New Year’s Honours list).

James Aston MBE FCA

John Rushforth

John is a nationally recognised expert on UK University governance. He is responsible for the key documents that underpin the governance of all publicly funded UK HE institutions namely the CUC HE Code of Governance, the HE Senior Staff Remuneration Code, a range of illustrative practice notes e.g. Academic Assurance, Recruitment of VCs, etc and a Leadership Foundation publication on the relationship between Vice Chancellors and Chairs. He has collaborated on, as joint editor and contributor to, a book on HE governance Governing Higher Education Today, International Perspectives (Routledge May 2019).

John has carried out reviews of governance arrangements at five institutions in the UK (DMU, Ulster, Aston, Churchill College and Bath Spa) and reviewed the effectiveness of governing bodies’ oversight of academic quality as part of a Leadership Foundation review for HEFCE.

He has also carried out projects on university autonomy, in Albania, Pakistan and Brazil sponsored by the British Council. He has a comprehensive understanding of audit and review having been an internal auditor (in local authorities), an external auditor (with the Audit Commission), an audit regulator (at HEFCE), oversight of an Audit Committee (at UWE) and is currently a chair of an Audit Committee (in the NHS). He is a member of the Higher Education UK-wide Standing Committee for Quality Assessment and was for 4 years a Board member of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

John Rushforth
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Governor Development Programme (GDP)

The Governor Development Programme (GDP) was created in 2005 and built on the earlier initiatives of the Committee of University Chairs (CUC). The programme is designed to support Governors and governance professionals in all HE institutions throughout the UK and various events are held throughout the year.

If you would like to find out more about our other governance events, please visit our Governance Development Programme page.

Find out more