Governors confess to self-assessment failure

July 26, 1996

College governing boards have admitted to serious weaknesses in their processes of self-assessment, according to the results of a survey published this week.

In the first national study of quality in college governance, the College Employers Forum found more than 60 per cent of respondents believed reviews of their own performance were poor or needed further development. While all had adopted strategic plans for the college, less than half the boards had a formal statement of their own responsibilities.

And more than 50 per cent of respondents felt the board's framework and calendar for assessment of its own strategic performance was poorly developed or needed more work.

The CEF surveyed questionnaire responses from 134 colleges across England and Wales. Sixty per cent of questionnaires were completed by the principal, 19 per cent by the chair, 12 per cent by the clerk or secretary and the balance jointly by chairs and principals.

Since incorporation at least 50 per cent of board members must be drawn from business interests outside the college. The balance is usually made up of the principal, staff and student representatives and co-opted members from community groups.

The survey showed the principal and chair were considered to have by far the strongest influence on board decisions, while the majority felt students, staff, the academic board and trade unions were only occasionally important.

Nearly one in five colleges reported at least one full meeting of a standing committee failing to reach its quorum last year, suggesting that voluntary board members could be struggling to offer the amount of commitment now demanded. More than 70 per cent of non-confidential board meetings remain closed to the public and just a quarter of governing bodies hold annual public meetings to report on the college's performance and plans.

Only 35 per cent of colleges said their governors formally put items to the academic board for consideration or had any guidelines for contact with staff and students. But in each case a significant minority of respondents felt these kind of communications were not relevant.

Roger Ward, chief executive of the CEF, said it was important to remember that members of college corporations were busy people volunteering their time and increasingly subject to pressures of accountability.

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