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The New Regulatory Framework

The new Office for Students is beginning to take shape.  All the signs are that it will behave very differently from its predecessor.   

Risk Briefing: Beyond Higher Education

Late in 2017, the Institutes of Internal Audit across Europe (UK and Ireland, France, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland) pooled their resources to identify common themes or hot topics that could help to focus the attention of internal audit in its efforts to mitigate risk and add value in organisations.  The exercise included a wide range of sectors – construction / infrastructure, financial services, IT, manufacturing, public sector, retail / consumer, telecoms and utilities / energy.  

This briefing note sets out the main risks from that exercise, along with our comments on what it might mean for Higher Education, with the intention of aiding the development or update to internal audit plans over the coming twelve months.

The Higher Education Market: An Assessment of the National Audit Office Report

The recent National Audit Office (NAO) report on Higher Education led to press headlines that questioned the value for money offered to students from their experience of Higher Education.  Initial reactions within the sector have challenged both the concept of a market in Higher Education and the NAO’s methodology.  While these are valid questions, the NAO report does highlight several themes that need to be addressed.  This briefing note explores thoses issues and suggests some possible ways forward. 

New Regulatory Framework: Implications for audit committees and internal audit providers

The Government has recently released a suite of consultations that start to implement the changes set out in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017. They also take forward a number of key Government priorities, respond to a number of recent high-profile issues, and set out how the new Office for Students, replacing HEFCE, will operate.

This briefing note highlights some of the most significant changes and explores what it might mean for audit committees and their internal audit functions. 

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI), does not yet encompass armies of killer-robots roaming the planet.  However it has made some inroads into our day-to-day lives from the mundane (voice recognition software in telephone call centres) to the more interesting (driverless cars are no doubt on the way).  Within higher education some areas of AI are well-established such as automatic plagiarism-detection systems for student submissions like ‘Turnitin’.

However, to date we have barely scratched the surface of what AI is capable of.  Now, industry and technology experts are predicting that AI will expand to take over many routine tasks in the coming years and decades. 

Research into GuildHE members views on UKVI compliance

This document sets out a summary of findings from a survey developed and administered in partnership between GuildHE and Uniac. It seeks to understand current issues associated with Tier 4 compliance and to provide useful information about practice within providers that will be of assistance in continuing to develop efficient and effective control mechanisms. Thirty-three instiutions responded to the survey, accouting for over 75% of GuildHE membership. This was followed up with in-depth interviews with 15 instiutions. A full research note will be circulated to all participants and GuildHE members. 

Changes to the NSS: Student Voice

This year's National Student Survey (NSS) contains questions on 'Student Voice' that will be asked of all participating providers in the main body of the survey, producing comparable published national data, for the first time in its history. In short this is the first time that HE providers have been explicitly and publicly measured on how well their students think they engage with and respond to their views. This briefing looks at some of the issues highlighted by the national data and makes some suggestions about how instiutions might respond.

Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) Data

The Department for Education has released graduate employment and salary information analysed by university and by course. This Longitudinal Education Outcomes (LEO) data was compiled by linking tax, benefits and student loans information, and relates to the 2014/15 tax year to 5 April 2015.  2012-13, 2010-11 and 2008-09 graduates were used, meaning the data shows outcomes one, three and five years after graduation respectively.

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.

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