Autonomous higher education providers, including Russell Group members, are responsible for their own decisions about leadership appointments. Institutional autonomy is explicitly recognised in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 and is specifically defined to include the freedom of providers to determine the criteria for selecting, appointing or dismissing academic staff. The Act is clear that both the Office for Students (OfS) (when carrying out its functions) and the Secretary of State (when issuing statutory guidance to the OfS) must have regard to the need to protect this institutional autonomy.
The government and the OfS both remain interested in areas related to equality and diversity in higher education. We consulted on behalf of the OfS on making arrangements for the publication of data on senior staff remuneration, including in relation to gender and ethnicity. The OfS retains the power to require the disclosure of such information through its accounts direction.
The government asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), the predecessor of OfS, to remind HEFCE-funded providers of their obligations under the gender pay gap reporting requirements. HEFCE wrote to these providers on 10 January 2018. HEFCE have also jointly commissioned a project that aims to equalise the gender balance and ethnic diversity of higher education governing bodies. This work will include establishing an online exchange to recruit board members.
In addition, we note initiatives across the sector, including at Russell Group institutions, to support women and those from black and minority ethnic groups who aspire to leadership positions in higher education.