The role of the board in engendering the college of the future

With the recent publication of the #CollegeOfTheFuture report and the imminent White Paper, it is quite apparent that there will be many and significant strategic decisions to be made on the purpose, place, and governance of colleges and post-16 providers.

This raises the question of what is the role of the governing body (the Board) in this process?

As a result of growing stakeholder intolerance of poor college performance, together with an increasing recognition of the role colleges are going to play in the post-16 education landscape, conventional and ceremonial governing bodies of previous times are necessarily being supplanted by increasingly active boards that are asking more of senior leaders and taking a closer interest in their institution’s business.

We know that Boards have three key roles; three lines of sight:

  1. Hindsight – reviewing past performance, audit committee work, compliance, and external reporting.
  2. Oversight – where are we now compared to where we thought we should be? What’s happened and what needs to change?
  3. Foresight – where and what are we aiming for, and who and how are we going to get there?

It would be fair to say that a significant number of boards have typically spent 65% of their time on hindsight and oversight, and about 35% on foresight. Yet most governors say that they would like to see that change or are making that change happen. That is because boards have far more potential to add value when they focus on strategy than when they carry out policing activity.

How do Boards add value?

Boards are well versed in policing – being the critical friend, delivering robust challenge, etc. and, with a few exceptions, do that pretty well now. So, it seems timely that Boards should refocus and prioritise foresight (strategy) and consider how they can add value.

So how do Boards add value? Typically, this is done through the passing on of extensive business experience and wisdom gained from having done certain things, and having been in certain places at certain times, so they can add to the management team’s intimate knowledge of the operational and strategic environment, by adding perspective.

But how much time do Boards invest in exploring perspectives? This is what the experts call the ‘knowledge exchange’ that must take place in the boardroom. Effective governance is evidenced when Boards positively influence management’s performance, thereby positively impacting on organisational performance.

Read the full article by Fiona Chalk, the ETF’s National Head of Governance Development, on FE News.

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