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Teaching Excellence Framework - Next steps for Institutions and their Audit Committees

The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) has been introduced by the Department for Education (DfE), supported by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

Currently in its second year, the TEF is designed to recognise and reward excellent teaching. All participating providers have now been awarded overall Bronze, Silver and Gold ‘medals’ and as the dust settles, we offer in this briefing note three key actions that both Institutions and Audit Committees could consider taking to help ensure success in future exercises.

VFM Round Table Discussions, Manchester & London - Summary of Discussions and Potential Outcomes

Executive and non-executive representatives from 34 higher education providers and five sector organisations met in Manchester and London to discuss value for money reporting, particularly how HEFCE might develop more structured mandatory value for money reporting by individual institutions.

The need for such reporting is driven by the government’s appetite for evidence that public money invested in the sector delivers good value.  The Manchester and London meetings, which were also attended by Steve Butcher of HEFCE and Ian Powling of Universities UK, were chaired respectively by Andrew McConnell OBE, Director of Finance at the University of Huddersfield and Chair of Uniac’s Board and by Andrew Murphy, Chief Finance Officer of the University of London.

While the government wants evidence of value for money, it has not articulated what form such evidence might take.  The recent coalition government searched unsuccessfully for a single performance measure.  HEFCE, however, wish to resist a burdensome drift towards a myriad of measures.  HEFCE see current institutional value for money reports as unduly qualitative and focused on procurement, strategies and plans rather than reporting outcomes and benefits realised.  Governing bodies have a stewardship role to ensure that their institutions are delivering, and demonstrating, value for money.  A succinct suite of measures is needed for two distinct audiences: government and students.  Some measures already exist, particularly for effectiveness.  A task and finish group is proposed to formalise efficiency measures.  Where possible these will use existing sector groups and data sources; will minimise the burden on smaller institutions; and recognise distinct institutional missions.

HEFCE will demonstrate anonymised exemplars of good value for money reports later this year.  They will also issue guidance on value for money reporting – potentially for the 2017-18 report cycle. In the meantime, the need to be sensitive to individual institutional competitive positions will need to be recognised.

Managing the risks of immigration compliance in small and specialist providers

Small and Specialist providers face unique challenges in meeting immigration compliance requirements. This joint Guild HE and Uniac briefing is aimed at heads of institutions and governors of small and specialist institutions. It aims to give an overview of the key issues to consider in managing the risks of immigration compliance and suggests some possible ways in which colleagues in those institutions might mitigate the risks. If you have any questions, or would like additional support please contact enquiries@uniac.co.uk to find out more. 

Uniac Update - May 2017 - Major Cyber Security Attack

On 12th May 2017 computers in 150 countries were affected by the ‘WannaCry’ major malware attack. The attack is thought to have affected over 200,000 computers globally in both the public and private sectors. In the UK, this included around 61 NHS organisations which led to systems going down, patient appointments being cancelled and sensitive data being potentially put at risk. Other victims included Germany's rail network Deutsche Bahn, Spanish telecommunications operator Telefonica, US logistics company FedEx and Chinese energy giant PetroChina.

Brexit in HE: Three key issues for audit committees

The column inches written about Brexit, whether ‘hard’ or ‘soft’, and its potential implications for the higher education sector, may well already reach across the channel (and quite possibly back again).  Indeed, a significant amount of uncertainty can be expected to continue at the very least until the end of the two-year negotiation period once Article 50 has been triggered and more likely well beyond.  

So, in the face of such uncertainty and risks to movement of staff and students, and to research and exchange collaborations, how should audit committees respond and what questions should they ask of their institutions?

Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standards

The Payment Card Industry - Data Security Standards (PCI–DSS) were introduced in 2006 by the Security Standards Council of the Payments Card Industry to combat fraudulent use of payment (credit and debit) card details. All merchants accepting card payments need to demonstrate ongoing compliance. The standards are worldwide and cover security of the transmission, storage and processing of customer’s payment card details. These include:

  • operational controls such as: restriction of authorised users, physical security of point-of-sale payment devices, secure retention and disposal of receipts, user education to prevent recording of card details;
  • IT security controls such as: firewall settings, network configurations and access controls.

Data Futures

HESA have embarked on a long-term project, Data Futures, which seeks to deliver a new redefined Higher Education landscape. This project aims to create a more efficient and timely approach to data collection across the sector, in order to support better decision-making and to allow the sector to evolve and keep pace with other industries.

While the sector awaits details of these new data collection processes over the coming months, it is vital that institutions start to consider both the risks and opportunities that this project poses – at both executive and operational levels.  Institutions will particularly need to ensure that student record and reporting systems are aligned with the future data landscape.  We hope that the new approach to data collection will help institutions shift some focus away from data reporting, and instead allow increased attention on how the rich data held can be exploited for the benefit of institutions and their students.

To support the move to Data Futures, there have been several other reviews undertaken within the data landscape. 

Space Utilisation Benchmarking

Effective use of space is vital for many HE providers.  Reasons vary but include growth plans, cost pressures, changing learning and teaching requirements, or to make innovative use of technology.

One of our clients asked us to benchmark space management across several institutions. Our client was particularly interested in the management of arts and creative spaces as well as general questions about space utilisation. We asked participants about:

systems and processes used to derive projected and actual space usage data;

how targets for space use are calculated; and the level of detail:e.g. space per student per course;

the extent of shared or bookable creative spaces for art and design related subjects; how such spaces are managed; and any specific targets for these spaces;

charges to departments/schools for ‘no shows’;

the length of a normal day used to routinely schedule timetabled activity; and

how timetabling is used to drive efficient and effective space use.

Nine institutions participated.  Size (from small and specialist up to large multi-faculty), balance of teaching/research focus, and scale and mixture of arts and creative activity varied across the participants. We are grateful to everyone who responded.  Despite the variation in providers that we spoke to, there was a high degree of commonality in the challenges faced.

Research Excellence Framework 2021

Public funding for research in Higher Education in England is distributed through the ‘dual-support system’ with funding coming through either the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in the form of a ‘block grant’, or through UK Research Councils for specific projects.  HEFCE distributes its £1.6 billion annual block-grant quality-related (QR) funding based on a cyclical assessment of research quality; the Research Excellence Framework (REF).

The last REF was conducted in 2014 and following the outcomes of a significant government review of the process, led by Lord Stern in December 2015, HEFCE has now released a major consultation on how the exercise should be taken forward. The consultation is wide ranging and particularly open ended in the questions and issues it raises. Some of the key issues, such as the ending of the practice by which institutions can submit research outputs undertaken by researchers previously employed elsewhere, could have significant implications for the future of research conducted in the UK. This briefing note sets out some of the more substantive changes and presents some observations on their implications.

Developing International Partnerships

Britain’s forthcoming departure from the EU, an ever more volatile international market, and an increasingly uncertain funding picture within the UK, combine to focus UK HE institutions’ attention on international partnerships.

A university, seeking to manage the development of international partnerships, asked us to benchmark three relevant areas:

  • Collection, recording and use of management information about international academic networks, contacts and partnerships (any teaching, research and enterprise/other activity that does not constitute formal collaborative provision directly covered by academic QA processes)
  • Checks of potential international partnerships and activity against strategy
  • How incoming enquiries about possible new international partnerships are handled.

This note summarises our findings and the key observations we made.

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