Research Series OT-01, January 2009
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This report summarises a range of existing research and data sources in attempting to answer the question: 'what is an effective and high performing governing body in higher education?' The question is, of course, contentious, and Section 4 explores what the terms 'effective' and 'high performing' mean in the specific context of governing HEIs. The study is part of a number of activities overseen by the Enhancing Good Governance Steering Group, which asked Allan Schofield (as project manager) to prepare this review.
The report notes that higher education in the UK has actively enhanced its governance in the past decade, and is generally recognised to be well governed. Initiatives to support enhanced governance have included a number of activities of the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) the establishment of the Leadership Foundation and its subsequent work on governance, and the general encouragement of the UK funding bodies to enhance governance and accountability - including in England a substantial fund (the Leadership, Governance and Management Fund) operated by Hefceto support innovation within HEIs.
However, much of this work has been about identifying the responsibilities of governing bodies and identifying good practice in undertaking key activities. Less has been done on how boards can maximise their effectiveness in practice, add value to their institutions, and on how effective boards can be distinguished from less effective ones. Similarly, the four UK HE funding bodies have identified the increasing importance of governance but have no real way of identifying effectiveness in practice, beyond compliance with regulatory requirements and what is deemed acceptable practice in the sector.
Strongly related to the issue of effectiveness is the idea of what constitutes a 'high performing' governing body, and whether it is possible to demonstrate any correlation between such a board and the overall performance of an HEI. In the private sector, high performing companies increasingly require high performing boards, and it is difficult to conceive of a board being held to be effective where a company is performing less than satisfactorily. However, in higher education it has been perfectly possible to have the situation where corporate governance has had little relationship to the efficiency and effectiveness of teaching and research. In such circumstances the case for enhancing governance in higher education ideally needs to be made not only on the basis of public accountability, but also by demonstrating the 'added value' to institutional performance that effective governance can bring.
There is a significant literature on board performance in both the private and public sectors, however, until recently there has been less research in relation to governing body effectiveness in higher education, and where it exists it has not been brought together in a convenient way for governors and senior managers to explore. This report seeks to provide that information.
Accordingly, although the appendices set out a wide range of data, the main part of this report is based upon a number of key existing sources. In particular:
- A study commissioned by CUC and the Leadership Foundation to provide data on governing body effectiveness in a sample of UK HEIs, which was undertaken by the Office of Public Management (OPM). This involved a survey of 27 sample HEIs and a more detailed review of governance in five case study universities. Their survey data is summarised in Section 2 and in Appendix A.
- Research by David Llewellyn on the role of the secretary of governing bodies, funded by the Leadership Foundation. Substantial parts of Llewellyn's work are included in this Report with his approval.
- Various publications of the CUC, including its Guide for governing body members and its Code of Governance, both produced in 2004 and influential in shaping subsequent interest in governance.
- A selective literature review on effective governance in higher education (both in the UK andoverseas), and in other sectors
The Report is arranged so that readers may 'dip' into those sections which interest them most. Section 2 summarises research data (including that from OPM) on the current state of governance in HEIs, and is the foundation for everything which follows. Section 3 identifies what can be learnt from governance in other sectors, and also introduces some existing ways of conceptualising governance. Experienced governors might wish to omit this section. Section 4 presents an approach to identifying effective governance in HEIs, and determining how the added value of governing bodies can be assessed. Analysis of the OPM survey data and a literature review are provided in Appendices A and B for those readers who wish more information.