Cambridge avoids extra accountability (for a while at least)

“Cambridge dons retain control of university”

According to the Guardian, Cambridge has fended off pressure to change the composition of its Council to include a lay majority. The extent of the additional accountability requirement which has been agreed seems to be an annual meeting between the chair of the Audit Committee and a Hefce officer:

The ancient university has agreed to provide more information to account for the public money it receives from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) — more than £181m in the coming year — but has resisted pressure to have a majority of external members on its governing council. A review by Hefce of how the university accounts for public funds concluded: “We are able to place reliance on the University of Cambridge’s accountability information. This will be strengthened by a new annual process that has been introduced to provide additional assurance on the use of public funds, given that the university does not currently have a lay majority on its council.”

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However, the funding council appears satisfied that a “modest extension of its public accountability” — essentially a meeting between the chair of the university’s audit committee (an external member) and a Hefce officer — will meet its needs. Asked if Hefce had reached a face-saving compromise, a spokesman replied: “We recognise with both universities that governance reform will take some time. In the case of Cambridge, in recognition of the fact that the university does not feel able to move to a lay majority on its council at this time, we have agreed that we will undertake an additional annual assurance visit specifically to gain additional comfort about the use of public funds. We will operate this mechanism for three years and expect the university’s governance reform to continue moving forward in that time. At the end of three years, we will review the effectiveness of the annual assurance exercise.

Looks like a pretty good outcome for Cambridge this. The additional requirement seems extremely light touch and it will be interesting to see if anything emerges from these meetings and whether the university is pushed into making more substantial changes in the next three years.

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