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Welcome to our first Board Sketch of the new academic year

09 Nov 2022

These regular Sketches are designed to give you a little more insight into each of the Board of Governors meetings - a key recommendation from the independent 2021 Halpin review into the University’s governance.

University of Manchester

Welcome to the first Board Sketch of the new academic year and the first formal University Board Meeting led by our new Chair of the Board of Governors, Philippa Hird.

We announced Philippa’s appointment in July, taking over from her predecessor Edward Astle from the beginning of this September.

It was also the first meeting for a number of new Board Members: David Buckley, Anna Dawe (both lay board members); Professor Daniela Casselli (Senate Board Member); and Samantha Bronheim and Tesnime Safraou (both Students’ Union board representatives).

Sketches and a broader focus on the work of the University Board of Governors

These regular Sketches are designed to give you a little more insight into each of the Board of Governors meetings. They aim to give a flavour of topics covered within the meeting – they certainly don’t replace the formal minutes.

They are part of a broader communications package to bring to life the work of the Board, create a better understanding of its role (what it does and doesn’t do), and know board members a little more. This work is a key recommendation from the independent 2021 Halpin review into the University’s governance. We are continuing to implement all its recommendations in full.

A focus on Research and IT matters

Ahead of each Board meeting there is a briefing on a Research topic and presentation to provide insights into areas of particular interest for the Board.

Professor Caroline Jay, a member the Digital Futures research platform and Head of Research in the School of Engineering, gave an inspiring presentation on her teams’ integrated work in ‘Developing AI for Healthcare’. Professor Jay and her team have created an algorithm that can more easily detect the condition, known as long QT syndrome, which can cause fast, chaotic heartbeats and can be life threatening.

There was also an excellent update on University IT from PJ Hemmaway, our Director of IT Services. While acknowledging that there are many challenges to be overcome and regular major incidents to manage, he explained the new strategic framework that had been adopted to address key areas of concern across the EVOLVE programme, focused on fixing our IT foundations and core services, ATOM, and Infrastructure evolution.

Both presentations were very well received by Board members, generating constructive questions and lines of interest, and establishing a strong precedent for similar presentations at future meetings.

Board meeting highlights

The Chair introduced a new schedule of areas for Board focus in the year ahead covering objectives such as Delivery of the Vision and Strategy; delivery of the plan in this academic year; further long-term planning; and of course, ongoing governance.

The Board considered the latest institutional performance report. Following a wide-ranging discussion, further assessment will be considered through the Annual Performance Review (APR) process and the November Accountability Review as planned. This includes a formal assessment of progress overall in 2021/22 and summarizes our performance against benchmark UK institutions.

Further student perspectives

A new Student context report which will be a feature for each Board meeting and which summarized key long-term and immediate issues affecting the student experience was well-received. In particular, the meeting discussed the impact of the cost-of-living crisis including the close University and the Students’ Union collaboration to create short-term action to support students.

The Students’ Union members welcomed the speed of the University response but given the scale of the current crisis and impact, it was widely recognized by everyone that there was more to do. Students are now being surveyed to test awareness and use of support measures.

Approval of updated five-year plan

The updated five-year plan to 2026/27, in line with previously agreed targets and the strategic ambition set out in the Our Future strategic plan, was discussed and approved. The discussion had highlighted key risks including inflation and rising energy costs. Work is now ongoing on the rolling planning process for the 2023/24 budget and the next five-year plan to 2027/28.

Student Residences Outline Business Case

The Board received an outline business case for investment in the University’s residential portfolio as part of the wider residential strategy, aimed at improving students’ experience.

The case to act and the demand for residential accommodation has been well-established. The outline business case covers investment in new developments at the Fallowfield and Whitworth Park campus sites as well as increased long term maintenance provision. As well as residences, the plans include amenity and social space and integrated pastoral support with gateway hubs facilitating interaction with key services.  Amongst a range of issues, the meeting discussed rent affordability and the importance of ensuring a range of price points.

The Board approved the recommendation from Finance Committee that, in the absence of the ability for the University to fund the scheme outright, to proceed in principle to develop a Full Business Case for a Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) or Joint Venture model for final approval in Spring 2023. Any DBFO would require a full competitive dialogue process, likely to be four years from start date to occupation (including two years for construction).  

Research Relationships and Gift Oversights Groups

The meeting also received the annual reports on the purpose and activity of the Research Relationships Oversight Group (RROG) from its inception in March 2021 and the Gift Oversight Group (GOG) for the last academic year.  

The Board heard about the work of the RROG in reviewing and assessing the suitability of higher-risk research funders and less often research partners, collaborators, or sub-contractors. It provided a further level of assurance that research relationships were consistent with the University’s values and these relationships and unlikely to impact negatively on the reputation of the University.

GOG is responsible for ensuring that philanthropic donations and the purposes to which they were applied were consistent with the University’s principles and did not undermine its reputation. Any single or cumulative donation of £100,000 or more is considered by GOG.

The next Board Meeting will take place on Thursday, 24 November 2022.