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Case study: Academic Governance Review

In 2016, the Senate was invited to consider a paper noting that, partly as a consequence of the changing nature of the external education policy landscape and partly as a result of a need for re-organisation of structures, the time was ripe for a review of academic governing instruments. A working group was established to look at a variety of issues identified and a series of recommendations brought forward for approval 12 months later. A brief health-check of new arrangements was conducted after a year of operation of new structures.

Department(s) / colleagues involved

Committee Chairs and Secretaries throughout the academic governance structures. Academic colleagues from departments who were members of committees and many others who joined the institutional conversation about the fitness for purpose of our existing academic governance structures and the benefits that might be obtained through different organisation of these.

Our aim was to …

  • Review the effectiveness of the committees and boards reporting to the Senate, to ensure that Senate could be assured as to the effectiveness of the discharge of their responsibilities
  • To ensure that structures were delivering value in enhancing institutional effectiveness in education
  • To create space for discussion of the student experience
  • To optimise institutional preparedness for TEF
  • To ensure that Widening Participation was given appropriately strategic consideration
  • To ensure that the University Council was enabled to develop the necessary insight into matters of education in the light of the increasing emphasis of its role in reporting on the effectiveness of frameworks to the new sector regulator

What we did …

A Working Group was established comprising key colleagues from across all levels of the academic governance framework representing a variety of areas of interest (undergraduate and postgraduate education; student support; Faculty governance; committee secretariat.)

Research was conducted into the effectiveness of existing committees and boards through discussions with Chairs and Secretaries, and an examination of the conduct of the business of each. A particular focus was given to the separation of strategic and routine business and the allocation of sufficient time and space to the former. Consideration was given to the congestion of the committee timetable and impact upon reporting relationships. Colleagues examined committee loads and the effectiveness of decision making, including impacts upon the community. The Group considered the desirability of creating a pipeline of colleagues able to take on leadership roles in education at departmental, faculty and institutional levels. Consideration was given to the alignment of nomenclature in some areas with that used increasingly within the wider sector and the simplification of roles, removing potential duplication. The Working Group looked into the likely impacts of the introduction of a new SITS-based workflow for course approval upon Faculty committees, drivers for a holistic review and revision of University regulations and the delivery of departmental governance.

The outcome has been …

  • The launch of a new academic governance framework in 2017-18
  • The creation of a new leadership team for Education through the Education Executive, with the appointment of a range of colleagues as Academic Directors taking on thematic leadership of identified areas
  • Greater clarity and simplicity of structures with re-alignment of the constitution, membership and Terms of Reference of each
  • The appointment of Faculty Education Committee chairs to lead merged undergraduate and graduate studies committees considering education across all levels of study at Faculty level
  • The establishment of the Student Learning Experience & Engagement Committee, jointly chaired by the student Education Sabbatical Officer, to lead consideration of matters relating to student experience and engagement
  • The establishment of a Widening Participation Committee, enabled, through more senior membership, to steer the strategic direction of WP activity


The benefit/impact has been …

  • Clear leadership of the Education brief with delegated authority to Academic Directors in functional areas
  • A clarity of purpose and sense of momentum through the establishment of the Education Executive
  • A simpler structure with clearer reporting lines
  • A removal of confusion and some congestion in the consideration of undergraduate business
  • The removal of some constraints within the committee timetable
  • A fusion of consideration of undergraduate and postgraduate business at Faculty level, with potential benefits for both
  • Greater focus upon and prioritisation of student experience

This supports the Education Strategy by …

  • Identifying members of the Education Executive leading education policy in thematic areas
  • Offering greater clarity and sense of purpose to colleagues involved as members in committees and boards
  • Offering staff bringing forward business greater clarity as to how to channel proposals to effect change
  • Enabling a deliberate and sustained focus to be brought to student experience and engagement issues
  • Facilitating the adoption of sections of the Education Strategy by committees which are thematically aligned
  • Supporting the University’s Widening Participation agenda more ably
  • Ensuring that the University is well prepared for TEF and other recent changes in the national education policy landscape
  • Securing the necessary assurance of quality and standards and enabling the Senate and the Council to have the necessary confidence in giving undertakings in this regards to the sector regulator

The response of students / staff has been …

Staff have appreciated simplification and removal of congestion in relation to undergraduate business. Faculty Education Committees are working to assume their role in integrating consideration of undergraduate and postgraduate business. Students now take up crucial roles in the Education Executive and co-chairing the Student Learning Experience and Engagement Committee and the latter has provided a focal point for discussions in relation to myriad issues in its first year of operation to which insufficient time was dedicated under previous structures. This has already led to a real impact upon students’ experience of studying at Warwick.

Our next steps will be …

  • Remaining vigilant to external requirements needing to prompt further consideration as to appropriate structures and the successful conduct of business by structures put in place in 2018
  • Undertaking a holistic review of University regulations
  • Considering optimum arrangements for the servicing of academic committees

To find out more, you can contact …

Roberta Wooldridge Smith, Deputy Academic Registrar, Education Group

r dot wooldridge dot smith at warwick dot ac dot uk