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All HEFCE-funded providers must provide assurances about the continuous improvement of the student academic experience and of student outcomes by noon on Thursday 1 December 2016.

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Assurance statements from accountable officers on behalf of governing bodies as part of the new operating model for quality assessment

1. In March 2016 we published a ‘Revised operating model for quality assessment’ (HEFCE 2016/03). This new approach includes a role for your governing body in providing assurances about the quality of your higher education provision. This circular letter sets out the process we will adopt during 2016-17 to collect these assurances, and the action you will need to take.

The new operating model for quality assessment

2. The new operating model for quality assessment includes a requirement for the governing body of a provider to submit on an annual basis assurances about:

  • the continuous improvement of the student academic experience and of student outcomes
  • the reliability of degree standards.

3. All HEFCE-funded providers will be required to provide the first set of these assurances to us by noon on Thursday 1 December 2016. For HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, these assurances will be integrated with the existing assurances that you submit as part of the Annual Accountability Return (see Annex A). For further education colleges directly and indirectly funded by HEFCE (including sixth form colleges that deliver higher education) we will ask you to submit the new assurances through a tailored template (see Annex B); we will not collect information that duplicates the broader set of assurances that colleges already provide to the Skills Funding Agency and Education Funding Agency.

4. The reliability of the assurances provided by your governing body each year, and the evidence used to underpin these, will be tested during our five-yearly HEFCE Assurance Review visit. Our schedule for this existing activity for higher education institutions, together with an indicative schedule for further education colleges, can be found at

5. The new assurance statements relate to your governing body’s oversight of academic governance arrangements during the 2015-16 academic year. We recognise that some governing bodies may wish to reflect on the approach taken to this area and may not be in a position to provide a full set of assurances in December 2016. We will therefore accept partial assurances, together with an account of the action your governing body is taking to reach a position in which it can provide full assurance. Where only partial assurance is given, we will arrange a follow-up discussion with you in spring 2017 to ensure that we understand the current position and the actions that you plan to take.

6. As we set out in HEFCE 2016/03, it is not our intention that the governing body be drawn into quality management activities, but rather that it receives reports and challenges assurances from elsewhere within the provider. The evidence on which a governing body’s assurances are based, and the way in which it chooses to receive and challenge information, will be shaped by the particular governance arrangements in an individual provider: each governing body is responsible for determining the approach that it will take, including the evidence it requires, to provide reliable assurances.

Assurance statements about the student academic experience, student outcomes and degree standards

7. We have discussed the following wording for the assurance statements on quality (for submission on 1 December 2016) with the Committee of University Chairs, the Association of Colleges, and the Heads of University Administration. The assurance statements are as follows:

As a governor and on behalf of the governing body, I confirm that for the 2015-16 academic year and up to the date of signing the return:

  • The governing body has received and discussed a report and accompanying action plan relating to the continuous improvement of the student academic experience and student outcomes. This included evidence from the provider’s own periodic review processes, which fully involve students and include embedded external peer or professional review.
  • The methodologies used as a basis to improve the student academic experience and student outcomes are, to the best of our knowledge, robust and appropriate.

For providers with degree awarding powers:

  • The standards of awards for which we are responsible have been appropriately set and maintained.

For providers without degree awarding powers:

  • The standards of awards for which we are responsible have been appropriately maintained.

8. The subsequent submission, due on 1 December 2017 and relating to activity during the 2016-17 academic year, will also include the following additional assurance statement:

  • The governing body has received a report that confirms that the provider continues to meet the standards of Part 1 of the European Standards and Guidelines (2015).

9. Codes of governance – which include further information about a governing body’s responsibilities for academic governance – are available for both the higher and further education sectors as follows:

  1. The Committee of University Chairs issued the Higher Education Code of Governance in December 2014 (see
  2. The Association of Colleges issued the new Code of Good Governance for English Colleges on 31 March 2015 (see

10. You may also find the blog post ‘Governance in higher Education: Don’t panic’, by the Secretary to the Committee of University Chairs (, helpful as your governing body starts to address these issues. We are working with the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education to provide further support to governing bodies, and more information about their work will be available during the autumn.

11. Please contact Scott Court, 0117 931 7417, if you have any questions or need further information.

Yours sincerely

Professor Madeleine Atkins

Chief Executive


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Annex A: Annual Accountability Return template for higher education institutions (for information)

Download the Annex A: Annual Accountability Return template for higher education institutions as PDF (132 KB)

Annex B: Annual Quality Assessment Return template for further education colleges (for information)

Download the Annex B: Annual Quality Assessment Return template for further education colleges as PDF (114 KB)

Date: 22 August 2016

Ref: Circular letter 25/2016

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Governance; Quality assessment and quality assurance; Academic governance

Enquiries should be directed to:

Scott Court, tel 0117 931 7417, email

Andy Beazer, tel 0117 931 7223, email