This year's Governance Conference was face to face for the first time since 2019, and offered a diverse range of speakers providing multiple perspectives on how boards can ensure they govern in the interests of students along with a valuable opportunity to network with others and share good practice.
Who was this conference for?
All Chairs, governors, senior staff and governance professionals were invited to attend. Now in its fifth year, this was the must-attend and only annual event on HE governance which brings together the full range of perspectives.
The conference addressed the following key themes:
Quality and Data
Boards need to seek assurance that the data they are receiving enables them to hold the institution accountable. There are increasing specific duties for boards to seek academic assurance at a course-based level and have effective mechanisms in place to ensure effective academic governance arrangements are in place. Boards also need to question what data they are getting and if this provides information to the whole picture, going beyond existing datasets and exploring key themes such as student and staff wellbeing.
Supporting Student Governors and Working with SU’s
The role of student governor can present many challenges in being fully integrated into the board in a short timeframe, with the same responsibilities as other members of the board while often balancing this with being an elected officer in the students’ union. The board also has a responsibility under the Education Act 1994 to ensure that the students’ union operates in a fair and democratic manner. There is a need to ensure that a healthy relationship underpins this to support good governance arrangements between separate organisations going beyond the role of the Student Governors.
Good Relations on Campus to Support Free Speech
Universities have a long track record of championing free speech, rigorous debate and academic freedom. This has come under greater scrutiny in recent years, as the obligations around protecting and upholding freedom of speech and fostering good relations between different groups can sometimes seem to compete. However, both are core to the values and success of the higher education sector, and integral to the activity of governing bodies.
This was an excellent conference with interesting speakers, the sessions very were well facilitated by Advance HE staff and the technology worked smoothly!
Member of Council
Buckinghamshire New University
On the day
Keynote from Rob Behrens: Chairing a Board - working in partnership
Panel Session: Expectations and aspirations – how does data, metrics and evidence enable the Board
Chair: Kim Ansell, Assistant Director Governance (Interim), Advance HE
Governing bodies and senior executive teams are currently grappling with data, metrics and evidence in profusion. While the OfS plans and implements a step change in what it measures for ongoing registration in relation to student outcomes, Universities UK publishes a paper on assessing quality and the REF results and evaluations are announced. Institutions continue to provide data to HESA who aspire to “enhancing the competitive strength of the sector”.
What do governing bodies really need to inform and influence decision making? How can they make sense of performance and conformance, in relation to the strategy, risk and external assurance for which the governing body has oversight?
An inspiring and wide-ranging set of speakers on both pertinent and important topics
Dr Lisa Keay,
Head of Governance,
South Devon College
Keynote Conversation: Insights from Advance HE Surveys and Research
Dan Tinkler, Advance HE’s Governance Development Manager was in conversation with Jonathan Neves, Advance HE’s Head of Business Intelligence and Surveys to look at what boards and governance professionals can learn from Advance HE’s sector leading research about the wider student experience. Focusing on findings from the Advance HE-HEPI Student Academic Experience Survey, and also covering the UK Engagement Survey and Postgraduate Taught and Research Experience Surveys, this session explored key trends and findings about what students at all levels are telling us about their key priorities and challenges. This session provided a chance to ask questions regarding Advance HE’s Surveys and research and help boards consider what information they receive about their students in relation to UK wide findings.
Panel Session: The role of the Student Governor and Working with the Students' Union
Chair: Miguel Gonzales-Valdes Tejero, Education Officer, University of Manchester Students' Union
This panel session explored both the role of the Student Governor and the relationship between the Board and the Students' Union. As Boards work to ensure they govern in the interests of students the role of Student Governor is crucial in providing lived student experience, it is important to ensure that Student Governors are equipped are empowered to succeed. Under the Education Act 1994 the board of the institution has a statutory requirement to ensure that the Students' Union “operates in a fair and democratic manner and is accountable for it’s finances”, however it is vital to understand what this looks like as good practice and how to build a relationship at Board to Board level where partnership develops between both organisations to deliver high quality student outcomes.
This panel was chaired by a student member of Advance HE’s Governance Strategic Advisory Group and brought together a range of sector expertise including recent student governors and elected SU officers, a Students' Union CEO and University leadership to challenge how best to support and develop the role of the Student Governor and working with the Students' Union.
We are all passionate advocates in Advancing the HE sector, by sharing leading practices and thought leadership, together we can make a difference for our students and staff
Chair of the Board,
Keynote from Rae Tooth: Social justice, quality and the student experience: The pivotal role boards play in achieving ‘human first' learning communities that are engaged and engaging
Chair: Aaron Porter
Panel Session: Assuring freedom of speech and good campus relations for all
Chair: David Bass, Assistant Director, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Advance HE
This panel session explored the practical ways that Boards can assure freedom of speech and good campus relations in the context of Advance HE, UUK and GuildHE’s work to develop a statement of intent. With the issue very much in the eye of government and the press, and the Freedom of Speech Bill looming, what are the sensible steps governing bodies can take to demonstrate action on this matter, with appropriate evidence from governance and assurance systems and practice? Our panel brought together the legal, practical and policy perspectives on the topic to help navigate the landscape and provide assurance to, and for, all.
Dr Roberta Blackman-Woods
Keynote - Navigating the economic and political context: implications for institutional decision makers in higher education
Higher education institutions find themselves in the middle of a complex and fast moving political and economic environment which is impacting strategic decision and the student experience.
Inflation, cost of living increases, rising energy costs, impeding industrial action, regulatory change, the rapidly diminishing value of the undergraduate tuition fee and dependencies upon international students- just some of the pressures facing Higher Education institutions as we emerge from a period of unparalleled political turmoil.
This was an interactive session that provided an opportunity for discussion between delegates and speakers focusing on the role that Boards and their systems of governance need to fulfil.
Thought provoking speakers and practical advice is a hallmark of Advance HE events
University of Worcester
Overall a great event and very thought provoking
Deputy Chair of Board of Governors,
University of Wolverhampton