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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

HEFCE’s Accounts direction to higher education institutions for 2015-16 financial statements

1. I am writing to inform you of HEFCE’s Accounts direction to higher education institutions (HEIs) on preparing financial statements for 2015-16. This direction only applies to HEFCE-funded HEIs. I would draw your attention to one new requirement in Annex A paragraph 2g below, which is to add to the list of items for consideration for inclusion in the statement of internal control those issues that have been (or should have been) referred to HEFCE under the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability.

Statement of recommended practice – Accounting for further and higher education

2. HEIs are required to follow the ‘Statement of recommended practice: Accounting for further and higher education’ (SORP), or any successor to the SORP, in preparing their financial statements. The latest version of the SORP (2014) is available from the Universities UK website.

3. In the case of an HEI that is also a company limited by guarantee, this direction is subject to the requirements of the Companies Act.

4. The financial statements must be signed by the accountable officer, and by the chair of the governing body or one other member appointed by that body.

Corporate governance and internal control

5. The voluntary Higher Education Code of Governance published by the Committee of University Chairs recommends that HEIs confirm their adoption of the Code in publicly available reports on corporate governance, such as annual reports or audited financial statements. In order to report that an institution has applied the Code a governing body needs to:

  • be confident that it has in place all of the primary elements. In order to do so it will be necessary for a governing body to meet or exceed the requirements of the supporting ‘must’ statements that prescribe essential components within the element; or
  • explain where it considers a whole primary element or supporting ‘must’ statements inappropriate. In such cases the rationale should be clearly noted and the alternative arrangements summarised within an institution’s report on its use of the Code. 

6. Adopting the Code, with the principles of the code adapted to each HEI’s character, is an important factor in enabling HEFCE to rely on self-regulation within HEIs, and hence minimise the accountability burden.

7. HEIs are required to maintain a sound system of internal control and to ensure that the following key principles of effective risk management have been applied. Effective risk management:

  • covers all risks – including those of governance, management, quality, reputation and finance – but focuses on the most important risks
  • produces a balanced portfolio of risk exposure
  • is based on a clearly articulated policy and approach
  • requires regular monitoring and review, giving rise to action where appropriate
  • needs to be managed by an identified individual and involve the demonstrable commitment of governors, academics and officers
  • is integrated into normal business processes and aligned with the strategic objectives of the organisation.

8. HEIs are required to review at least annually the effectiveness of their system of internal control.

9. HEIs are required to include in their annual financial statements a statement on internal control (corporate governance). In formulating their statements, HEIs should refer to best practice guidance, including guidance from the British Universities Finance Directors Group. As a minimum these disclosures should include an account of how the following broad principles of corporate governance have been applied.

  1. Identifying and managing risk should be an ongoing process linked to achieving institutional objectives.
  2. The approach to internal control should be risk-based, including an evaluation of the likelihood and impact of risks becoming a reality.
  3. Review procedures must cover business, operational and compliance risk as well as financial risk.
  4. Risk assessment and internal control should be embedded in ongoing operations.
  5. During the year the governing body or relevant committee should receive regular reports on internal control and risk.
  6. The principal results of risk identification, risk evaluation and the management review of their effectiveness should be reported to, and reviewed by, the governing body.
  7. The governing body should acknowledge that it is responsible for ensuring that a sound system of control is maintained, and that it has reviewed the effectiveness of the above process.
  8. Where appropriate, details of actions taken or proposed to deal with significant internal control issues should be set out (see Annex A).

10. The statement on internal control (corporate governance) must explicitly cover the period from 1 August 2015 to 31 July 2016, and up to the date of approval of the audited financial statements.

Date of submission to HEFCE of audited financial statements

11. The latest date for submission of HEIs’ audited financial statements for 2015-16 is Thursday 1 December 2016. Earlier submission will be very welcome.

External audit requirements

12. HEIs are required to ensure that their contracts for external audit provide for an opinion on whether the HEI has applied funds provided by HEFCE, where appropriate, in accordance with the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability, and whether funds from whatever source, including funding council grants, have been used for the purposes for which they were received. Guidance on wording is available in paragraph 23 of Annex A of the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability (HEFCE 2014/12). 

Remuneration of higher-paid staff

13. HEIs are required to disclose the following.

  1. The actual total remuneration of the head of institution, disclosing separately:
    • salary
    • performance-related and other bonuses awarded for the financial year, including any deferred payment arrangements and separate disclosure of amounts waived
    • any sums paid by way of expenses allowances (in so far as those sums are charged to UK income tax)
    • the estimated money value of any other taxable benefits received by the head of institution, other than in cash (in particular company cars, subsidised loans including mortgage subsidies, and subsidised accommodation)
    • contributions to relocation costs
    • any sums paid in respect of the head of institution under any pension scheme.

    The HEI must show a sub-total excluding pension contributions and a total including them. Salary sacrifice arrangements should be described.

    Where there is a change of head of institution (including an acting head of institution) either between years or during a year, details are to be shown separately for each person, and relevant start and finish dates given.

    Pensions paid or receivable under an adequately funded pension scheme do not require disclosure.

  2. The number of higher-paid staff other than the head of institution whose emoluments received in the year (including taxable benefits in kind, but excluding compensation for loss of office and employer pension costs) fall in bands of £10,000 from a starting point of £100,000. Payments funded from external sources, including the NHS, should be included in emoluments. Royalties or other payments that are outside the affairs of the HEI do not count as emoluments for this purpose.

    Disclosure is not required for staff who joined or left part-way through a year but who would have received emoluments in these bands in a full year.

  3. Details (see Annex B to this letter) of any compensation for loss of office paid or payable to the head of institution or to staff earning in excess of £100,000 per year.

Disclosures required by exempt charity HEIs

14. The following information should be included in the HEI’s audited financial statements and related reports. 

  1. The charitable status of the HEI.
  2. The trustees who served at any time during the financial year, and until the date the financial statements were formally approved.
  3. A statement that the charity has had regard to the Charity Commission’s guidance on public benefit.
  4. A report on how the HEI has delivered its charitable purposes for the public benefit.
  5. Information about payments to or on behalf of trustees, including: the aggregate of expenses paid to trustees for their duties as trustees; payments to trustees for serving as trustees (and waivers of such payments); and related party transactions involving trustees. Additional guidance is available on the HEFCE website.
  6. For each paragraph 28 (Charities Act 2011 Schedule 3) connected charity that has income in the year of £100,000 or more, the following:
    1. Its name and charitable purpose.
    2. The opening balance, income and expenditure for the year, and closing balance.
  7. For all other paragraph 28 charities, the following:
    1. An analysis into appropriate groups (for example prize funds, bursary or scholarship funds, research support funds) stating the number of entities in each group.
    2. For each group: the aggregate opening balances, income and expenditure for the year, and closing balances.

    (Note: the terms ‘opening balance’ and ‘closing balance’ in paragraphs 14f and 14g should be interpreted as total reserves where the paragraph 28 charity is an operating charity.)

15. The accounts direction is reviewed annually. The 2015-16 accounts direction will remain in force unless HEIs are notified otherwise. We recommend providing copies of this letter and the annexes to the HEI’s finance and audit committees.

16. Any matters arising from this letter should be referred to the relevant HEFCE assurance consultant or assurance adviser. A searchable list of contacts can be found on our website.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive

Date: 31 July 2015

Ref: Circular letter 21/2015

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Governance, Finance, Audit, Management

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE assurance consultant or assurance adviser.