A bronze statue of an open hand outside the Department of Education

The HEA and the Department of Education & Skills

While governance at institutional level is a responsibility of the HEI, the HEA has an oversight role to ensure that appropriate systems are in place and are operating effectively, in line with its responsibility to ensure full accountability for public funding and to maintain a risk register for the sector on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills.

This relationship with the Minister for Education and Skills and the Department around governance is a critical component of the overall governance framework. A series of mechanisms are in place to frame this relationship, covering: performance in the delivery of national policy objectives; a service level agreement outlining specific required activities; financial accountability; and risk. Further details on these mechanisms are set out in the table below.

Annual System Performance Report

The HEA is required to submit an annual system performance report to the Minister for Education and Skills setting out progress against the agreed national policy objectives and identifying any governance, financial or wider performance issues across the higher education sector. The report draws together the findings from the performance compact updates and associated strategic dialogue process with individual HEIs, setting out performance against agreed baselines and targets.

Service Level Agreement

The Service Level Agreement between the Department of Education and Skills and the HEA provides the formal framework for the DES/HEA relationship, providing the context both for the work of the HEA and for accountability to the Minister. It currently focuses on activities across 10 themes, with service commitments, associated indicators and delivery targets in place across each theme. One theme focuses directly on the monitoring of compliance with governance and accountability requirements for the sector. The latest Service Level Agreement is provided as Appendix 14.

Financial Accountability Framework

In conjunction with the SLA, the HEA also agrees a Financial Accountability Framework with the Department to provide for proper and effective use of public funding, effective control audit and accountability measures and cost effective and efficient delivery of services. A range of responsibilities are set out in this framework as follows:

  • Governance assurance and accountability structures
  • Financial control and reporting
  • Audit arrangements
  • Risk management
  • Procurement
  • Travel and subsistence
  • Tax

Each of these responsibilities has associated HEA commitments and key performance indicators. The HEA monitors and reports on progress against these KPIs on a quarterly basis to DES. The Financial Accountability Framework is provided as Appendix 15.

Risk Register

The HEA is responsible for maintaining a corporate governance risk register for the higher education sector on behalf of the Department of Education and Skills. This sets out a series of risks such as, for example, Governing Body appointments not taking into account corporate governance expertise or HEIs failing to administer the Code of Governance correctly. The risk register is updated and submitted to the Department on a quarterly basis. The Risk Register is provided as Appendix 16.

MAC Committee on Sectoral Governance and Accountability

The MAC Committee on Sectoral Governance includes representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Chief Executive of the HEA and an external member who can provide an additional element of insight and experience in the area of governance oversight. The Committee’s role is to support the development and implementation of best practice governance arrangements across the sector through oversight and regular assessment of its approach to governance. A Principal Officers’ Sectoral Governance and Accountability Network has also been established to support the work of the MAC committee by facilitating discussion regarding compliance requirements, providing feedback, highlighting issues arising in each sub-sector and disseminating good practice.

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