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Advance HE

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Frequently asked questions about the new sector agency formed by the merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education:

Name and background

  • How has the merger come about? The merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education follows the recommendations of the Bell review for a single sector agency for equality and diversity, learning and teaching, and leadership and governance in higher education.
  • What’s the agency’s name and what are its plans for branding? The new agency has announced its new name as Advance HE. The new branding is in development and will be revealed in due course.
  • How did the name Advance HE come about? The new name follows consultation between the three agency boards and reflects Advance HE’s mission to champion the continuous enhancement of teaching and learning, equality and diversity, and leadership and governance in higher education, both within the UK and globally.
  • Does the new agency have charitable status? Like its forerunners, Advance HE is a charity committed to the public good. The Charities Commission for England and Wales, and the Scottish Charity Regulator has approved Advance HE’s charitable status.
  • What’s Advance HE’s position in the sector? Advance HE is ‘of and for the sector’, with a board that is representative of the broad cross section of organisations engaged with Advance HE, including representatives from UUK and GuildHE who originally formed the respective organisations and have supported the merger from the outset.
  • When will Advance HE formally come into being? The boards of all three organisations ratified the merger on Friday 15 December 2017. The formal merger ‘vesting day’ is Wednesday 21 March.

All three agencies forming Advance HE have great track records in their respective fields. But they are stronger together – enriched by their combined commitment and expertise in Advance HE’s more rounded and complete offer.

Leadership, organisation and structure

  • Who will lead Advance HE? Advance HE will be led by Alison Johns, currently chief executive of the Leadership Foundation. Alison was appointed as CEO Designate, following a formal process in September 2017.
  • What other interim senior appointments have made to steer the transition to a single agency? David Ruebain, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit, has been appointed Interim Director of Equality Integration and Dr Mark Jones, acting chief executive officer of the HEA, has been appointed Interim Director for Agency Integration for the new organisation. Both roles are in place until 31 July 2018 to support the transition to Advance HE.
  • How will the transition be managed? Advance HE has already established a number of working groups to support the transition to a single agency. After vesting day and the conclusion of the current consultation, the Advance HE executive will establish the new structure for the organisation. The revised structure for the new agency will be in place and operational from Wednesday 1 August 2018.
  • What governance arrangements are planned? Advance HE is recruiting new board members to join the board who will guide the organisation in the delivery of a new ambitious strategic plan and offer to the sector. An open invitation process has now concluded and nominees have been contacted.
  • What is the process for the agencies to come to together as one entity? The Higher Education Academy provides the legal structure for the new organisation. Staff from the Equality Challenge Unit and Leadership Foundation will transfer under TUPE regulations post vesting day. The organisations will trade as Advance HE from this point on.

Summary: The senior leadership and working groups are already into the detail of their planning and are making very positive strides towards the formal merger and “go-live” date of 1 August 2018.

Current work, consultation and continuity

  • What are the arrangements for transition to a new membership model? During 2018-19 we will deliver a transitional range of products and services. There will be a further consultation later this year to determine our integrated membership model and offer for the academic year 2019-20.
  • When will Advance HE be operational? The revised structure for Advance HE agency will be in place for Wednesday 1 August 2018 following a period of sector consultation – to include clients based outside the UK.
  • When will the sector be consulted? An independent research agency has been contracted to undertake one-to-one qualitative interviews with a cross-section of vice-chancellors representative of the widest extent of the members of the three organisations. Once this has concluded, there will be a quantitative survey that will be open to a wide range of stakeholders. This is expected to conclude by mid-April. The outcomes will inform Advance HE’s membership offer, range of associated products and services and structure for the academic year 2018-19. A further consultation on a more integrated offer will be undertaken later in 2018.
  • How will the core work of ECU, HEA and LFHE continue under Advance HE?
    Advance HE will continue the Equality Challenge Unit’s work on equality, diversity and inclusion across all four nations of the UK, including colleges in Scotland, as well as its international partnerships. The Athena SWAN and Race Equality Charters will remain a key focus of these efforts.

The HEA Fellowship scheme, aligned to the Professional Standards Framework (PSF), will be retained. HEA Fellowship post-nominals, will also be unaffected by the merger. Institutions with HEA Accredited programmes will continue to confer HEA Fellowship on successful participants on those programmes.

Advance HE will continue the Leadership Foundation’s work on leadership, governance and management, including delivery of flagship programmes such as Aurora and TMP.

  • Will ECU’s work and partnership with Scottish colleges continue in Advance HE?

Yes, Scottish colleges are key stakeholders in the merger process and we recognise the differences in the college context in Scotland and the necessity and value of our partnership with the college sector.

Understanding the landscape and context of education in Scotland will be a strength of the new organisation, and we are committed to building on ECU’s relationships and commitments to Scottish colleges.

While the details of the propositions are to be shaped and informed by the sector consultation, leadership and governance, equality and diversity, and teaching excellence will remain core to Advance HE’s work.

Institutional membership 2018-19

  • What are the arrangements for a transition to a new membership model? The chief executive plans to contact institutions in early May with the details of Advance HE’s membership scheme for 2018-19. This will be a transitional year and Advance HE has undertaken to give a price reduction on current membership fees. Advance HE will be consulting on a new membership model for 2019-20 later this year.

What is the timeline for the merger?

December 2017

  • Boards unanimous vote to merge

January 2018

  • Charity Commission approval
  • Advance HE name announced


  • Vesting Day and sector consultation starts


  • HEA/LFHE membership letters for 2018/19 @ reduced rate
  • Sector consultation concludes with the Advance HE strategy
  • Restructure consultation begins


  • Restructure complete


  • Advance HE ready for business – Transition year


  • Consult and build new membership model for 2019/20