Wales wants governors not cheerleaders

Reviews foreshadow change in the governance and shape of sector and HEFCW. Hannah Fearn reports

March 11, 2010

University governors may be given greater independence from senior managers as part of a shake-up of higher education in Wales.

A Welsh Assembly review of university governance, announced last week by Leighton Andrews, the education minister, will also consider how to ensure that governors can turn to experts other than their own vice-chancellors for advice.

"We do not want governing bodies that act simply as a bunch of cheerleaders for university management," Mr Andrews said.

The review is the latest in a number of investigations into Welsh higher education. The consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers has been brought in to assess efficiency across the sector, including the operation of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. It is expected to report its findings at the end of this month. Higher Education Wales and the Chairs of Higher Education Institutions in Wales (Chew) are already undertaking a joint survey of governance in the sector.

Show more gusto

Announcing the latest review, Mr Andrews said he would "speak bluntly" about the need for change. He expressed longstanding concerns that universities were not "pursuing the reconfiguration and collaboration agenda with sufficient gusto".

"We do have questions about whether we need to strengthen the independent element of the governing body, whether we need to give support to governors so that they can get advice independently of higher education management and leadership, and whether the governors themselves are sufficiently kept abreast of government strategy."

The investigation was launched as the Welsh Assembly distributed a report examining the governance of HEFCW. The Report on the Citizen-centred Governance Review of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales says that an issue "raised unprompted by most contributors" was "whether HEFCW should continue to exist as a standalone organisation".

HEFCW has been called back before the Welsh Assembly Finance Committee, to which it gave evidence about its expenditure in January.

This week, the Assembly government was expected to send its annual remit letter to the funding body setting out its priorities for the coming year.

Mr Andrews said it would contain "a clear direction to HEFCW about the changes it needs to make".

Amanda Wilkinson, director of Higher Education Wales, said the current reviews would allow the sector to show that it offered value for money. "We are confident that universities will demonstrate the enormous economic and social value that they generate, and that we use public resources efficiently."

Andrew Wilkinson, lead chair of Chew and chair of the University of Wales, Newport, said: "The review tallies with work the sector has commissioned focused on ensuring that governance in Wales reflects the highest standards ... A fresh look at arrangements is timely."

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