Faculty advisory boards – A valuable link to the workplace

Advisory boards facilitate active external engagement between academics and expert representatives in the professions, business and-or industry. Advisory boards can be established at the university level and-or at the faculty or school level.

At the university level such a board usually advises the president of the university on aspects of broad institution-wide strategic positioning, but my focus is on faculty or school boards which advise the dean or head about strategic issues relevant to programme offerings and activities.

Advisory boards play an especially significant role in establishing connections between a university faculty or school and employers of its graduates. They represent a useful source of information about the latest ideas, developments in and requirements of the profession in the field.

Board members as employers play an important part in relaying expectations they and the broader profession have of potential graduates to succeed as skilled entry-level professionals.

The primary purpose of a faculty or school advisory board is to advise on aspects of the effectiveness of academic programme offerings and research directions and to guide quality improvement in one or both. The latter might include providing advice about existing course offerings, suggestions for potential changes and improvements along with presenting prospective opportunities for new areas of curriculum development.

Board members can also make recommendations about possible industry and consultancy prospects, research projects, student work or study placement opportunities and other issues deemed relevant.

External experts and advisers

Advisory boards are made up of members external to the higher education institution, ie, non-university employees, with the exception being the dean or head of school who is included as an ex officio member.

Boards usually include expert representatives from various bodies associated with the discipline areas they advise on. The range of such areas includes members from professional bodies, government, industry, employer groups and recent past graduates.

The aim is to bring together a diversity of experience and perspectives that can provide the broadest advice to the faculty or school about its activities and capitalise on the members’ knowledge. External members do not customarily have any decision-making authority; their role is to advise.

It is not unusual for the dean or head to invite an academic staff member to address the board where the agenda item requires specific expert advice from someone responsible for the development and-or implementation of that item.

At other times the board may wish to hear from a current student their impressions about the quality of a programme and their sense of how well their scholarly and practical experiences are preparing them for the profession.

A strategic role

Advisory boards function like other university boards, with terms of reference, a schedule of meetings, agendas, formal minutes and set terms of appointment for members. The terms of reference should clearly outline the purpose and function of the board along with the responsibilities and expectations of its members. Board papers, relevant correspondence, confirmed minutes and approved actions are all kept on record.

The board’s role is one of guidance about strategic direction and growth plans rather than commentary on everyday operational and management features. It operates as a useful sounding board for new ideas, and challenges the faculty or school to consider fresh innovative approaches to the teaching-learning environment. It is able to provide objective professional direction because members have no vested interest in the enterprise.

Board members can serve as mentors, bringing their specialised knowledge and skills to support new strategies. As employers, including past graduates, they are a constructive source of advice about the real-world preparedness of graduates. The feedback provided is a valuable means of keeping in touch with the latest needs of the profession and maintaining credibility with the broader community.

Advisory boards provide valuable counsel about future tactical directions the faculty might take, being careful to do so within the overall mission and goals of the institution. The goal is to ensure that what is offered is at the forefront of latest developments and opportunities and, especially, future needs of the profession.

Its members can help expand community interest in faculty or school offerings and activities, promote the reputation and advance the profile of current academic offerings and staff research endeavours.

Constructive criticism

While it may be challenging at times for a faculty or school to hear from external professionals that there are some deficiencies in the curriculum content or that certain skill development is not well-catered for or student practical projects are not as current or relevant as they need to be, advisory boards help ensure teaching and research endeavours remain authentic and contemporary.

Such constructive discussions also support the faculty or school to update, as needed, the quality of what it does and guarantee potential graduates are at the forefront of what the workforce and society requires in terms of knowledge and skills.

Dr Nita Temmerman has held senior university positions including pro vice-chancellor (academic quality and partnerships) and executive dean in Australia. She is an invited accreditation specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications and international associate with the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions in Dubai. She is chair of two higher education academic boards, and invited professor and consultant to universities in Australia, the Pacific region, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.