Enhancing Governance in Higher Education: Conflict of Interest Register

Posted: 29/05/2023
by: Claire Holmes

Effective governance is crucial for the success of any organisation, and this is particularly true for higher education providers. Boards of higher education providers play a critical role in ensuring that the governance functions of the provider operate diligently, effectively, and sustainably to ensure that they are meeting their requirements under the Higher Education Standards Framework (2021).

Today’s Boards have come a long way shifting from board members merely only having paper, writing utensils, and their minds to complex and more sophisticated digital tools. Boards are under greater scrutiny, which requires them to be more accountable and transparent. Digital tools are the best choice for efficient, effective, and cost-effective board work that enable board members to focus on urgent matters, risk management, strategising, and providing proper oversight of the organisation’s governance.

Digital tools such as registers assist in demonstrating good governance and can be crucial evidence for providers when registering with the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA). Conflicts of Interest (COI) registers are one such tool that promote transparency and accountability by enabling boards to manage potential, perceived and actual conflicts of interest.

A COI occurs when an individual or organisation has multiple interests, one of which could influence their decision-making in a way that is not in the best interests of the organisation they represent. COIs can arise in many contexts, such as when a board member has a financial interest in a company that does business with the organisation or when a member of the executive team has a personal relationship with a vendor or supplier. COIs can also arise when faculty members are involved in research that is funded by an external organisation or when administrators have close ties to donors or alumni.

COIs can be detrimental to the integrity of an organisation in that they can erode the trust of stakeholders such as students, staff, and the wider community. Therefore, it is crucial that board members take steps to identify, declare, record, and monitor COIs.

A COI Register provides a central platform for the disclosure, management and reporting of COIs that may arise in relation to the organisation. The register will typically include information such as the name of the individual or organisation involved, the nature of the conflict, and the steps that have been taken to manage the conflict. By maintaining a COI register, boards can ensure that all potential conflicts are identified and managed appropriately.

In addition to maintaining a COI register, it is essential that boards of higher education providers make COI declarations a standing agenda item for reporting and review at all board meetings. This ensures that all board members are reminded of their obligations to declare any potential, perceived or actual COIs, and provides an opportunity for any new conflicts to be identified and recorded. Declarations of COI should be adequately and accurately captured in the minutes of board meetings, ensuring that the process is transparent and can be scrutinized if necessary.

If you would like further information how DVE could assist your organisation’s governance or would like to chat further on effective governance tools and practices for higher education providers, please reach out to the DVE Business Solutions Team – we’re always happy to organise an Advisory Session or an informal chat to support you.