Learn from Met record or get stuck on repeat

June 13, 2013

How well acquainted is Michael Shattock with London Metropolitan University? (“‘The best board I ever sat on’”, 30 May.) In drawing parallels between HBOS and the university, Shattock quotes Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, as stating that London Met in the period 2003‑09 was marked by governance, managerial and operational failures “unprecedented” in higher education. He also quotes the review led by former University of Kent leader Sir David Melville, commissioned by the institution to investigate what had gone wrong, which found “a highly centralised and dictatorial executive led by the vice-chancellor, which was incapable of listening to what was going on in the university”.

The Melville Review recommended that London Met’s culture and its board of governors desperately needed to change. This does bear comparison to the position at HBOS.

However, leaving aside the widely reported matter of a staff governor, a Unison branch chair and a highly regarded professor of industrial relations being suspended by London Met earlier this year, plus the non-availability of minutes for recent meetings of the institution’s board of governors, it is also worth noting other problems at the university today.

In 2009, the Melville Review specifically indicated that “funding completion” was not included on London Met’s “risk register” and that the vice-chancellor, the university secretary and members of the executive group had failed to clearly present such risks to the board of governors and board committees. But last year there was no reference on the risk register of any potential difficulties with a partnership agreement between London Met and private institution the London School of Business and Finance, nor with the sponsorship of international students that might or might not have been linked to that partnership (which has now been dissolved).

Shattock is right to draw parallels between HBOS and London Met, but the real insight is that the lessons flagged up by inquiries already completed must be learned there and elsewhere. Governing boards must listen and act on the advice and information offered by staff and recognised trade unions, not just poorly performing university executives.

If lessons are not learned, history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce.

Cliff Snaith
London Metropolitan University’s University and College Union branch

Mark Campbell
UCU London Met

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