1. This document asks higher education institutions (HEIs) to send us their annual accountability returns for 2015. The accountability returns are a significant part of the way in which HEIs can demonstrate accountability for the public funds distributed to them.
2. The various returns cover financial performance, financial sustainability, risk management, control and governance, value for money, the management and quality assurance of data, and quality assurance of the student experience. In addition to the documentation requested in the annual process itself, we will also consider other sources of assurance such as:
- HEFCE assurance reviews
- HEFCE data audits and reconciliation of data from Higher Education Students Early Statistics returns and the Higher Education Statistics Agency
- reviews by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and the Office for Standards in Education
- the Capital Investment Framework and Estate Management Statistics.
3. We will primarily use the information collected to:
- monitor the use of our funds for the purposes intended
- assess compliance with the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability
- largely determine our risk assessments of each HEI
- form a basis for discussion with HEIs about their progress in key areas, their priorities for strategic development, and their current and future performance
- identify issues and developments across and within parts of the higher education sector, anticipate change and develop well-informed policy responses where necessary
- inform our advice to the Secretary of State and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) on the provision of higher education in England.
4. We have made some changes to our requirements. See paragraph 16 for details.
Efficiency and value for money
5. HEFCE has been asked to work with BIS and Treasury ministers, the Research Councils and vice-chancellors to build on the Diamond and Wakeham reviews to drive further and faster improvements in efficiency. Universities must continue to demonstrate good value for money (VFM) and one way in which they can do so is to share their annual VFM reports with HEFCE. Therefore, HEIs are asked to submit an annual VFM report as part of the annual accountability returns in December. This is not a mandatory requirement, but we strongly encourage HEIs to submit this information to help provide a better evidence base of VFM activities in the sector. This reporting is intended as a non-burdensome opportunity to demonstrate the value for money which institutions provide to students and the taxpayer.
Feedback following our review of the returns
6. We will share broad findings in a number of ways – for example, in our sector-wide report on our analysis of the financial health of the sector, and in our annual report on higher education in England. We may also use this information internally for other analyses relating to our functions, and such analyses may be shared with other public bodies (including BIS) as the need arises.
7. Following our review of the returns we will notify each HEI of our risk assessment through a letter to the chair of the governing body and the HEI’s accountable officer usually during March or April 2016. This is an annual process, but we may revisit an HEI’s overall risk assessment at any time if there is a significant change in its circumstances. Until a new letter is issued, an HEI can assume that its last risk assessment letter is still valid.
Material adverse changes
8. We remind all HEIs of their obligation, under the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability with HEFCE, that they should inform us of any material adverse change in their circumstances (see ‘Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability between HEFCE and institutions’, HEFCE 2014/12, paragraph 57).
9. The following requirements will apply.
- HEIs must submit, by Tuesday 1 December 2015, updated financial tables showing the actual performance and position for 2013-14 and 2014-15, along with a commentary that explains any significant changes from the data submitted in the July 2015 forecasts.
- HEIs must submit, by Friday 29 July 2016, financial tables showing the probable results for 2015-16 and forecasts for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19, along with a full commentary that answers the questions specified (see Annex D).
- Other information as specified.
We may exceptionally request that some institutions submit full financial forecasts in December, but this will be discussed with any institutions affected before the submission date.
10. Detailed guidance on the documents to be returned is given at Annex A. Templates for the Annual Monitoring Statement (Annex B) and financial tables (see Annex C) will be available by early October 2015. Templates for the financial commentary are given in Annex D. The template for the Annual Assurance Return is given at Annex E, with guidance at Annex F. Annex G gives information about where guidance on the HESES return may be found. The template for the Transparent Approach to Costing return will be available by early October 2015 (see Annex H).
11. We will write to the accountable officer, heads of finance and our Annual Monitoring Statement contacts in each HEI at the beginning of October with details on how to access the templates and return information to us.
12. Templates for the financial forecast tables for the July 2016 submission will be made available in April 2016. These will take account of any changes resulting from the implementation of the new SORP. We will write to the heads of finance in each HEI in April with further guidance and details of how to access the template and return information to us.