Effectiveness Review Consultative Group
This report is written for submission to the Constitutional Advisory Group following the work
undertaken by the Effectiveness Review Consultative Group (ERCG).
At its meeting on 2 February 2009, the Steering Committee commissioned an Effectiveness
Review of Non-Departmental University Governance Arrangements, building upon the
Effectiveness Review of the Council which took place in 2008, to ensure that the University’s
governance arrangements are appropriate and well placed to contribute to the future success
of the University. The ERCG was charged with obtaining views, feedback and perspectives on
the existing Senate committee and governance structures in relation to the following areas:
What works well currently
What could be improved and how
What could be done differently
What is redundant in the current system
What is missing from the current system
Extent and scope of delegated authority to/from different bodies (e.g. faculties,
departments, executive officers)
Alternative models, structures, bodies or approaches worthy of consideration
Size of committees
Operational issues (frequency of meetings, support arrangements etc.)
The impact of a part-year formal committee structure on year-round activities
Training and support for committee members
Three meetings of the ERCG were held: 5 March, 22 May and 10 June 2009. The
membership of the Group was as follows:
Professor H Beale
Dr A Dowd
Sir Martin Harris
Dr J Kidd
Professor J Labbe
Dr N Patel
Professor J Seville (Convenor)
Mr S Thomson
Professor R Wensley
External Member
Maths (Administrator)
President of the Students’ Union
The ERCG sought to have the widest range of feedback on the above issues. An online
questionnaire was agreed and published and was available to all members of the University to
complete – staff and students. The questionnaire was available for the period from 20 March
through 30 April 2009. Those directly engaged with Committees as well as Heads of
Departments and student representatives were specifically invited to respond and a notice
appeared on Inbox Insite and the University intranet. Over 100 responses were received. The
ERCG considered both summary level data as well as all individual contextual comments and
responses received. Additionally, the Group considered a number of issues that had been
raised recently within the normal course of committee business.
Generally, the Group found the analysis of the responses to be helpful in determining the areas
of endorsement for and dissatisfaction with the current governance and decision-making
The Group acknowledged that the questionnaire obviously aided reflection on the current
structures but that in itself, did not identify whether the structures were 'right or wrong' as
alternative structures were not presented for consideration.
The ERCG discussed a wide range of issues relating to governance and decision-making at the
University as highlighted in the responses given to the questionnaire. The Group acknowledged
that some issues, however, went beyond the remit of the Group and that these should be
considered within the relevant body (such as the groups established to consider the financial
arrangements of devolved departments and governance arrangements for research centres).
In that light, the Review Group wished to draw to the attention of the Constitutional Advisory
Group the following issues and recommendations.
(a) Decision-Making Structures and Delegation of Authority
From the analysis of the questionnaire responses and other informal input, it was clear that
those not directly engaged in the decision-making systems felt it was not easy to access
information on which bodies were responsible for taking certain decisions. Most
respondents valued the level of academic participation and the flat structure with its short
reporting lines. However, it was highlighted in the responses that colleagues new to the
University or those not often directly engaged with decision-making found it hard to
understand where to take new proposals for consideration.
There were a number of Committees/areas specifically highlighted as potentially requiring
some further consideration as to their operation and responsibility including the Academic
Resourcing Committee (ARC), Faculty Boards (see below), the Capital Planning and
Accommodation Review Group (CPARG), the Academic Quality and Standards Committee
(AQSC), and the Campus Life Committee. There was a feeling that decisions relating to
human resources policies also could be clearer.
The ERCG recommends that a schematic of the routes of routine decisions, such as course
and module approval and approval of new academic posts, be drafted and that this should
include not only diagrams of the broad structure but summary explanations as well. The
schematic should include any aspects of delegated authority from Committees to subgroups or to chairs or particular senior managers to clarify the engagement of non-formal
processes and bodies in decision-making structures.
By identifying the standard decision routes, it was felt that consideration should be given to
whether decisions are being taken at appropriate levels. Greater clarity is required in
defining the roles played by committees in reaching decisions, especially where the path
involves several committees – which are formally responsible and which should be
consulted or invited to comment, which should be informed of or comment on a particular
type of decision that has to been taken. It was felt that consideration should be given as to
whether certain decisions are too widely distributed. Some feedback received by the ERCG
suggested that ‘higher-level’ committees sometimes merely supervise the decision-making
of lower committees, though they were formally responsible for the relevant decision, and
were therefore undertaking unnecessary work as the decision could be fully delegated to a
‘lower’ body which is undertaking most if not all of the work to scrutinise proposals. There
was a sense from some members of the Group that proposals being considered on multiple
occasions introduced an element of ‘double or triple jeopardy’ which led to unnecessary
delays and lost opportunity rather than the benefit of greater engagement and
The Group also felt that for certain decisions, for instance module and course approval,
there may not be an appropriate balance between the relative risk associated with the
decision and the intensity with which the an item is scrutinised within the current committee
system. For instance, it was raised as to whether modules could be scrutinised and
approved at the departmental level, being reported and tracked as appropriate. When
considering the appropriate decision-making and consultation mechanisms for decisions, it
is recommended that consideration be given to the general level of risk associated with that
particular type of decision.
(b) 30 Week Timetable
The University’s formal committee structures currently function predominately on a 30-week
cycle, with the exception of the Senate Steering Committee which meets weekly throughout
most of the year. Whilst taking account of the need to record decisions made outside of
committee meetings and the work load of committee chairs and secretariats, the Group
recommends that the University identify more consistent alternative mechanisms for
processing academic business during vacations (and indeed where appropriate to do so
between meetings of the committee). Due to its frequency of meetings as well as its
inclusive membership, clear delegation to the University Steering Committee might be one
way of addressing this. Whilst acknowledging that wherever possible decisions themselves
should be taken as quickly and effectively as possible, the Group recommends
consideration of methods for increasing formal reporting times between Committees and
the Senate as the schedule of Senate meetings in week 10 compresses the academic
business and may not be conducive to effective governance.
As mentioned in the recommendation above, review of the type of decisions taken by the
Senate and related committees could provide insight into how the system could be revised
to provide coverage throughout the academic year as some decisions may not require a
meeting of the full committee but could be done in other ways: by post/circulation to
members, action taken on behalf of the committee by the chair or deputy chair, action
delegated to an appropriate senior manager, etc.
(c) Role of Faculty Boards and Faculty Chairs
The role of the Faculty Board and Chair of Faculty requires clarification in the Warwick
context of a ‘strong centre with strong departments’. The Group recognised the importance
of the Faculty Board as a forum for faculty-level consultation on strategic issues but
questioned its role in the decision-making structure. The ERCG felt consideration should be
given to whether it is the Faculty Board or the Faculty Chair which is important in the
Warwick context, noting that alternative mechanisms to consult and advise with Heads of
Department would be required if Faculty Boards were disestablished.
(d) Recruitment, Succession Planning and Induction
The feedback received via the online questionnaire highlighted the often insufficient
induction and training for members, chairs and secretariats to decision-making bodies.
It was felt that Chairs and members should be clearer on the role of the committee within
the structure and what decisions it can/cannot take. The availability of further guidance as
described in section (a) will aid this. However, it was the view of the Group that recruitment
and induction arrangements also should be enhanced.
Acknowledging that it is conventional for Chairs to act in that capacity for longer periods,
the ERCG felt that the current process of appointing Chairs of Senate committees on an
annual basis did not lend itself to knowledge building and forward planning. The Group
recommends that consideration be given to a standard appointment period of typically three
years, appointments being renewable. The Group also felt that a deputy chair being ChairDesignate for the final year of the appointment period wherever possible should be
established to allow for an adequate handover. The appointment of a Deputy Chair could
more generally aid contingency planning should a Chair not be accessible for a period of
time during their term of office and lighten the burden on any one individual. The
Secretariat was also acknowledged as having a key role in supporting the Chair/Deputy
Chair and there was a question as to whether Secretariats had enough capacity within their
wider roles to undertaken this pro-actively.
The Group noted that the undertaking of Committee duties was not always currently
recognised within an individual’s departmental workload. If it were quantified in some way
on the basis of appropriate role descriptions, it would provide a clearer indication for
potential Chairs, members and secretariats as to what the role entails and would be
valuable in highlighting engagement with the University’s governance structures as a valid
use of individual’s time.
(e) Communication, Reporting and Disseminating Decisions
The Group recommended an annual review of how business is managed within
committees, such as a short survey of effectiveness to be completed by the previous year’s
members with a report back to the first meeting of the year to clarify process for future
meetings. The Group also recommends a review of agenda and paper formats for Senate
committees to ensure the committee’s time and attention is focused on the highest priorities
and areas where the greatest impact could be achieved. One method already used by the
Council and the Senate to do this is to separate items between ‘business of the day’ to be
considered/discussed and those items of report/non-controversial items.
The ERCG felt that the mechanisms for disseminating decisions taken by committees and
decision-making bodies could be enhanced. Whilst respondents to the questionnaire stated
that minutes were clear (41% positive response), they had difficulty in accessing these, and
timely and direct feedback as to why a proposal was or was not approved was not always
Wider dissemination of the outcomes of meetings would aid in the understanding and
potential engagement of the wider community in the governance and decision-making
system. The Group discussed a possible ‘committee executive summary’ on the intranet to
present the items considered and decisions taken with a link to the full minutes for more
information. Additionally, the action points agreed at meetings and who is responsible for
undertaking any such actions could be more clearly highlighted in minutes or separately
documented. Consideration would need to be given to the added value of this against any
additional resource required to undertake it consistently.
Future Action
Acknowledging that its initial recommendations and comments would be considered in the first
instance by the Constitutional Advisory Group, the ERCG did not set a date for another
meeting. It had agreed, however, that it would reconvene if the CAG would like it to give further
consideration to any particular issues raised. The ERCG is keen to see actions being taken
forward on those recommendations which will not be relevant to the CAG’s specific remit and
As at 28 August 2009