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Governance 

17. Employment

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Introduction and aim

This briefing note examines the governing body’s role in relation to employment. Its responsibilities include appointing the head of institution and acting as the employing authority for staff. The note discusses the role of a human resources strategy, staff surveys and quantitative data, pensions and pension deficits.

The governing body’s responsibilities

Higher education institutions (HEIs) are independent legal entities that are able to employ staff and enter into contracts. A governing body’s responsibilities for employment matters will be detailed in the Statutes and Ordinances (Chartered Universities) or the articles of government  (Institutions constituted as Higher Education Corporations). They normally focus on key areas, including:

  • Appointing the head of institution and other senior post holders, appraising their performance and determining their pay and conditions
  • Acting as the employing authority for all staff in the institution
  • The two areas cited above also align with the model Statement of Primary Responsibilities included CUC’s Higher Education Code of Governance.

Full discussion of governors’ responsibilities and many of the topics discussed in this briefing note can be found in Getting to Grips with Human Resources Management.

Committees

Some, but by no means all, institutions establish committees of the governing body to look at employment matters. In chartered institutions they are often titled ‘staffing’ or ‘personnel’ committee. For post-92 institutions the articles of governance state the governing body ‘shall establish a committee or committees to determine or advise on such policies as relate to employment policy or finance as the governing body remit to them.’ Correspondingly, some post-92 institutions have a personnel or employment committee.

Appointing a head of institution

As the senior leader and its chief executive, the head of institution has a pivotal role in providing institutional leadership and management. Their appointment is a governing body’s responsibility, although in practice they are likely to (and may in some cases be required to) consult with a number of stakeholders, including Senate.

Frequently, the governing body will establish an appointments panel to oversee the appointment process. Membership of the appointments panel is often drawn from a number of constituencies, including, for example, independent members of the governing body, members of the senate and students. The chair of the governing body normally chairs the appointments panel.

While appointment processes vary, typically they start by agreeing a role and personal specification for the position. Led by the governing body, this is frequently progressed by consulting with some or all of the following: staff, students, alumni and the Court. The consultation with different stakeholders inevitably takes longer, but leads to wider consensus of the type of leader sought. Once agreed, the role and person specification form part of an information pack for potential candidates.

If the recruitment is managed internally the Director of Human Resources (or similar role) takes the lead in overseeing the process. If institution employs a search firm, then they will be expected to manage the process.

Once the closing date for applicants has past, the appointments panel will meet to agree a short list of candidates. Those on the list will be invited to participate in the next stage of the process. This often involves one or more of the following: interviews, presentation, focus group discussions and psychometric testing. The process is often spread over a number of days. The process may also be designed to  enable different stakeholders – for example, staff and students – to be involved and to offer their view on the candidates. In most cases the process leads to the emergence of a preferred candidate, who is then offered the position of head of institution.

Performance and pay

The governing body is responsible for appraising the performance of the head of institution and determining their pay. The remuneration committee discharges these responsibilities on behalf of the governing body (see Briefing Note No 16.).

Resource deployment and cost

Staff are a key resource and the largest category of recurrent expenditure. Examination of staffing should include both how resources support and enable the achievement of the institution’s mission and strategy, and whether their utilisation is efficient. Both aspects have a direct bearing on the institution’s performance and finances over the immediate and longer-term. Governors need to give consideration to both the strategic and financial aspects associated with the management of human (people) resources. The financial aspects of staffing decisions are discussed in Briefing Note 18: Finance.

Human resources strategy

The Statement of Primary Responsibilities included with the CUC Higher Education Code of Governance requires governing bodies to be responsible for ‘establishing a human resources strategy.’ The development of a human resources (HR) strategy is not however a requirement of the Scottish Code.

The development of a HR strategy offers governors the opportunity to ensure there is both clear direction and oversight of the resource base, while leaving the execution of the strategy to the executive team. A HR strategy is a sub-strategy of, and should be informed by, the institution’s strategic plan. Topics frequently contained in a HR strategy include an assessment of the current staffing position and future needs, aims and objectives of the strategy, key areas for action and performance measures.

The current staffing position should be informed by both quantitative and qualitative data. Typically, a HR strategy includes details of the total staff resource and costs, staff recruitment, retention and  turnover, average salary levels, pay awards, profiles of service, age, sickness absence, gender, ethnicity and training and development.

The HR strategy should be agreed by the governing body, and regularly reviewed.

Staff surveys and forums

Periodically many institutions undertake a staff survey. The aim is to establish the levels of satisfaction of those employed by the institution, and identify issues requiring management attention. Surveys can be a useful source of information on staff perceptions, morale and motivation. They may be supplemented by staff forums, at which staff are able to meet with the executive and governors. When conducting staff surveys or forums it is important to be aware that they often raise expectations that issues will be addressed and actions taken. Should action not materialise, staff may become highly cynical about the process, with adverse effects on motivation. This suggests staff surveys and holding forums should be avoided unless there is a genuine desire to address any key issues that may arise.

Quantitative data

Institutions return an annual staff record to the Higher Education Statistic Agency (HESA). This contains data on the characteristics of all staff under contract to the reporting institution, including, for example, total staff numbers, a breakdown of academic and non-academic staff, staff employed by cost centre and gender, ethnicity and disability data. The reporting period is the 1 August to 31 July.

HESA collates the institutional returns and produces the Staff in Higher Education publication. A sample of employment statistics drawn from the publication can be freely downloaded from HESA’s website. This data can be used for the purposes of making comparisons with other institutions and for benchmarking. However, in the light of the wide diversity of institutions comparisons need to be made with care.

Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association

The Universities and College Employers’ Association provides advice  and guidance on employment matters and acts as the lead on national pay bargaining. 167 HEIs are members. While some HEIs have moved to local pay determination, the majority of institutions continue to be part of the national negotiating machinery for pay. Governors should expect to be briefed on any national or local negotiations, which affect employment in their institution.

Pensions

There are a number pension schemes for staff employed in HEIs. Most staff working in pre-92 institutions belong to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). Academic staff employed by post-92 HEIs are normally members of one of the Teachers’ Pension Schemes (TPS), while professional support staff belong to a Local Government Scheme (LGS).

Pension deficits

As a result of improving life expectancy (increasing liabilities) and falling investment returns (reducing asset values), funded pension schemes are raising employee and employer contributions in order to address underfunding.1 Underfunding occurs if the scheme’s assets are insufficient to meet its liabilities. This is known as a pension deficit. Most pension schemes are currently in deficit. Pension schemes periodically reassess their assets and liabilities and the extent to which they are in surplus or deficit. Revaluations also affect individual institutions.

The net pension position for institution’s members of the scheme is shown as an asset or liability on the institution’s balance sheet. This shows the size of the surplus or deficit applying to the individual institution. Most institutions currently have a net pension liability. To ensure that the scheme’s pension payments can be met at some point funding will be required to make good this liability. Although currently there is little desire by institutions to remove their net pension liability, and revaluations keep altering the scale2, pensions remain a risk factor and a future call on resources.

Equality and diversity

There is increasing attention being given to equality and diversity, including in relation to new appointments and employment practice generally. Institutions need to meet a number of legal requirements, and governors should seek assurance that appropriate actions to meet statutory requirements have been taken. Governors should expect to receive, periodically, reports setting out the profile of staff and students and evidence that appropriate and positive action is being pursued to strengthen equality of opportunity and diversity.

The Equality Challenge Unit (ECU) supports the advancement of equality and diversity in higher education. Drawing on HESA data it produces reports on equality.3

Questions to consider

  • Has the governing body agreed a human resources strategy?
  • Is the strategy reviewed regularly?
  • Does the governing body carefully consider the balance between strategic imperatives and financial costs when considering staffing expenditure?
  • Does the governing body review comparative data for staffing?
  • Does the institution have a significant net pension liability?

End notes and further reading

  1. For a funded scheme payments into the scheme are ring-fenced and used to acquire assets whose return enables those of pensionable age to receive a pension. These schemes seek to ensure their assets will generate sufficient funds to pay the scheme’s pensioners, now and in the future. USS and LGS are funded schemes. The TPS schemes are unfunded. For these schemes the government does not ring-fence the income received, but uses current tax revenues to pay members who are eligible to collect their pension. The increasing liabilities of the TPS schemes have also led to increased employee and employer contributions.
  2. When a scheme is revalued actuaries make forward forecasts of matters than cannot be known with certainly. These include average life expectancy and the return on assets. Recent fluctuations in the return on assets have led to changes in their estimated value. As a result the value of the assets used by pension schemes have tended to fall and deficits increased.
  3. Equality in Higher Education: statistical report 2014.



April 2015
E: david.williams@lfhe.ac.uk
W: www.lfhe.ac.uk/governance
@LF4HE

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        8. Financial forecasts for English HEIs
        9. Governance changes proposed in the HE Green paper
        10. FEHE SORP 2015 Donations & Endowments
        11. Board diversity - the Davis Review
        12. Information systems and cyber security
        13. Does a change in leadership lead to a change in strategy?
        14. FIFA and corporate governance
        15. Volkswagen
        16. Sustainability
        17. Review of governance at Plymouth University
        18. Equality and diversity and governing bodies
        19. A Changing Agenda
        20. Role and effectiveness of audit committees
        21. Governance of Scottish Higher Education Institutions: Consulative Paper on HE Bill
        22. Governance issues at Tesco
        23. Student visas
        24. Governance at the Co-op
        25. HE funding - IFS report
        26. Removal of student number control
        27. Governance issues in the private sector
        28. Governance at the BBC
        29. Reforms to how higher education in England is regulated
        30. HBOS & London Met: case studies in governance
        31. New IPPR report on HE
        32. Moocs are coming
        33. Increasing diversity
        34. Kids Company
          1. The collapse of Kids Company
          2. NAO Investigation into Kids Company
          3. The need for good governance
      4. Getting-to-grips
      5. Useful websites
      6. Codes of governance
        1. CUC Code of Governance
        2. UK Corporate Governance Code
      7. New research on governance in higher education
      8. Book reviews
      9. HE facts
      10. Illustrative Practice Notes
      11. Roundtable notes
    6. Governance Briefing Notes
      1. 25. The factors that influence whether governance is effective?
      2. 24. Benefits and impact
      3. 23. Competitive pressures
      4. 22. Corporate ethics and values
      5. 21. Personal ethics and values
      6. 20. Legal requirements and regulation
      7. 19. Estates
      8. 18. Finance
      9. 17. Employment
      10. 16. Remuneration
      11. 15. Nominations committee
      12. 14. Audit committee
      13. 13. The governance system and assessing effectiveness
      14. 12. Size, composition and skills available to the governing body
      15. 11. Monitoring performance
      16. 10. Strategic plan
      17. 09. Students
      18. 08. Risk management
      19. 07. International students and collaborations
      20. 06. Commercial operations
      21. 05. Regulations and compliance
      22. 04. Academic governance and quality
      23. 03. The workings of a governing body
      24. 02. Governance and management
      25. 01. Becoming a governor
    7. Governor Dialogues
    8. Equality and Diversity Toolkit
      1. Overview
      2. Overseeing compliance
        1. The Equality Act 2010
        2. Governance Codes
        3. Overseeing E&D
        4. Reports Governors might use
        5. Case study: Bath
        6. Championing E&D
        7. Case study: ManMet
        8. Case study: Cardiff
      3. Competitive Advantage
        1. Competing in a global market
        2. Improving staff diversity
        3. Case study: Exeter
      4. Issues and Challenges
        1. Student inequalities
        2. Staff inequalities
        3. Assessing specific E&D issues
      5. Value
        1. Increasing focus
        2. Gender diversity data
        3. Improving diversity
        4. Case study 1: UWS
        5. Case study 2: UWS
      6. Questions and Resources
        1. Resources
    9. Self-Assessment Tool
    10. Governing Body Effectiveness
    11. Governance 2020 Survey
  6. International
    1. International Engagement
    2. International Reference Group
    3. International Case Studies
  7. Membership
    1. Membership benefits and services
      1. Membership logos
        1. Download the membership logos
    2. How to join
    3. National and regional contacts
      1. Abbie McKenna
      2. Cindy Vallance
      3. Gary Reed
      4. Jean Chandler
      5. Judy Harris
      6. Lesly Huxley
      7. Meriel Box
      8. Rebecca Bull
    4. Membership advisory group
    5. Membership development support
    6. Management Development Resources
      1. Download MDR1: Managing Effective Performance
      2. Download MDR2: Managing Change in HE
      3. Download MDR3: Emotional Intelligence, Personal Impact and Personal Effectiveness
      4. Download MDR4: Lean Management: Doing more with less
      5. Download MDR5: The Current HE Context: Drivers for change
      6. Download MDR6: Commercial Skills for Academics and Researchers
      7. MDR7: Caught in the Middle
        1. MDR7 Contents
        2. Download MDR7: Caught in the Middle
      8. Download MDR8: Working with Academic Motivation and Prestige
    7. Knowledge Bank
    8. Membership community
      1. Members' Directory
    9. MASHEIN
      1. MASHEIN Members
    10. Ten great reasons to be a Leadership Foundation member
      1. #10GreatReasons1
      2. #10GreatReasons2
      3. #10GreatReasons3
      4. #10GreatReasons4
      5. #10GreatReasons5
      6. #10GreatReasons6
      7. #10GreatReasons7
      8. #10GreatReasons8
      9. #10GreatReasons9
      10. #10GreatReasons10

Governance

Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter

Associate Director, Governance

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David Williams

David Williams

Governance Web Editor

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Welcome...

We are a membership organisation of and for a sector that has some of the brightest minds in the UK.

 

Our members are key to our strategy and form a community of higher education institutions with a clear commitment to and experience of developing leadership, governance and management capabilities at all levels. Academic and professional services staff from member institutions contribute to our programmes, projects and research and advise on benefits and services.

 

Find out more about Membership

 

  • Membership benefits

    • 25% discount on our open and in-house programmes and consultancy
    • a free consultancy day
    • exclusive access to research publications, development resources and funding opportunities
    • free regional events
    • funding for Staff Development Forum and MASHEIN activity
    • members’ mailing lists, newsletters and magazine
    • participation in our development networks

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  • How to join

    • Membership is open to all higher education providers and related sector organisations on an annual or three-yearly subscription basis.
    • We have 154 members with around a third taking advantage of the 10% discount offered by three-year subscriptions.

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  • Membership benefits

    • Research and innovation: Access to our latest, highly-valued research, Leadership Insights, Getting to Grips series and practical development project resources.
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    • Management Development Resources: Flexible workshop materials on key leadership and management development topics, for you to deliver in-house to suit your own contexts NEW: ‘Caught in the Middle’. 
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    • The Knowledge Bank: Save time with these extensive multi-media training resources for HR, staff development and OD professionals, covering key leadership and management theory and practice.
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  • Get in touch

    Meet the membership team, your national and regional contacts in the UK and Ireland, and LF networks.

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