“Good governance is fundamental to every successful organisation,” says James Brent, Chairman of the Board of Governors, reflecting on the journey the University has been on over the past 18 months – one that has involved external review and internal reform in equal measure. “Clearly there were some painful lessons learned last year, but we've endeavoured to address them in an open and transparent manner so that we better restore confidence among those who look to the University as educator, employer and anchor institution in the South West.”
When James stepped into the role of Chair in October last year, he knew that the first steps on the path to reform needed to be taken under the watchful gaze of external experts. So, together with the wider leadership team, they invited the Good Governance Institute to conduct a thorough report, not just of governance but processes, systems, culture and behaviours as well.
By March of this year, in anticipation of the report’s publication, the Governance Improvement Programme (GIP) was launched, led by Vice-Chair of the Board, Margaret Schwarz. Consisting of governors, staff and students, it set about creating a framework of engagement based on openness, honesty, trust, probity and respectful challenge, with the aim of ultimately providing the assurance and confidence that the University was being well-run and making good decisions.
This was crucial for the student body, for whom the term ‘transparency’ had become a watchword in 2014. Ruth Titmuss, President of the University of Plymouth Students’ Union, said:
“In the minds of many students, issues of governance and financial accountability were rolled into one. Some students were totally unaware of the issues; others were confused and concerned about the reports they were hearing but really didn’t know who to speak to. And then there were those who were vocal and disgruntled by what was appearing in the media, and they wanted answers.”
When the review was published, the GIP began to work through the 15 key recommendations. Professor David Coslett, who had been appointed by the Board to take over the interim roles of Chief Executive and, later, Vice-Chancellor, had already identified two critical areas to address – the need to establish a more representative academic leadership and the need to strengthen the academic voice across the institution.
He said: “Academic leadership needed to focus on the idea of ‘one university’ where Board, executive, staff and students each have a sense of shared goals and an understanding of the part they play in delivering them.”