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Islington Tribune - by TOM FOOT
Published: 4 December 2009
Under-fire chiefs refuse to quit cash-crisis university

UNION chiefs say they are “baffled” by the refusal of governors at London Metropolitan University to step down despite calls for them to “consider their positions” by government education bosses.
Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), said in a letter to chairman of governors Peter Anwyl last week that “it was difficult to maintain confidence in the governance of the university”.
The letter followed the release of the findings of an independent inquiry by Sir David Melville, which blamed former vice-chancellor Brian Roper, who quit in April, and a “dictatorial” inner circle of managers for the Holloway university’s cash crisis. More than 500 academic and staff jobs are under threat after HEFCE ordered the university to repay more than £36million it had wrongly claimed by misreporting student drop-out rates.
An earlier report, commissioned by HEFCE and seen by the Tribune, was also released this week.
It found senior management had “consistently failed to recognise withdrawals of full-time students through the data systems, resulting in inadequate financial planning and budgeting”.
London Met claimed over three years, between 2005-2008, that drop-out rates were three per cent when average figures until that time had been around 30 per cent.
The report added: “Senior management knew there were significant weaknesses in the student data, and its impact into HEFCE funding, and neither took appropriate decisive action.”
The independent auditors said: “We are concerned that the vice-chancellor and executive team, over a prolonged period, have not established a reliable base on which to properly plan the budgets and operations of the institution.”
Sir David’s report blamed Prof Roper, a group of senior managers, including the university secretary, the finance director and the deputy vice-chancellor. The governors should take responsibility because they could have followed up on the poor student completion rates and challenged the vice-chancellor, it said.
“[Staff] generally describe a highly centralised and dictatorial executive led by the vice-chancellor, which was incapable of listening to what was going on in the university, discouraged or ignored criticism and made decisions without consultation,” the report said.
University College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “The Melville report, coupled with the HEFCE letter, makes the position of many of the board of governors untenable.
“Those who failed to hold the autocratic management to account, in particular the chair of governors, chair of the audit committee and the executive managers who were part of the discredited vice-chancellor’s inner circle, are heavily criticised in the report, which rightly recommends new leadership.
“Nobody will have confidence in the university until there has been a proper shake-up at the top.”
The union has welcomed the appointment of Professor Malcolm Gillies, former vice-chancellor of City University, as London Met’s new vice-chancellor.
A spokeswoman for the university said governors were expected to respond to the Melville report after their next meeting this month. “The delivery of any resulting plans of action will be led by Professor Gillies when he takes up post in January,” she added.

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