Bath paid 'unusual' fees

February 21, 1997

Financial mismanagement of a Department for Education and Employment contract at Bath University included "unjustified" and "unusual" fee payments of more than Pounds 178,000 to three administration staff, an external audit leaked to The THES reveals.

Faculty director and Bath Rugby Club chairman Richard Mawditt alone received almost Pounds 55,000.

The Higher Education Funding Council Audit Service report focused on Bath University's "successful business" with the DFEE, as part of HEFCE's review of contract management in higher education institutions. Bath University is contracted to process school examination results for the Government's school league tables. Reviewing the period 1988 to 1994, the report made ten recommendations to improve accountability. Some incongruities, the report said, "merited further investigation".

"We were concerned at the lack of effective control over the payment of significant consultancy fees to members of administration staff," the report said. "We found that the work expected of them was vaguely specified and there was inadequate evidence in support of payments. It was also not clear how the particular amounts had been arrived at."

Criticism focused on the registrar at the time. Although not named in the report, Richard Mawditt, now director of Bath's International Centre for Higher Education Management, was responsible for the DFEE project as registrar at the time of the investigation which reported in December 1995.

Dr Mawditt, the report said, had been a "regular recipient" of consultancy fees, which amounted to Pounds 54,839 over the period audited. Two of Dr Mawditt's subordinates, members of the Administration Computing Unit, had also received fees amounting to over Pounds 123,000 between them, the report said.

"When these fees have been paid," the report found, "there has been no documented justification to substantiate the payments. We would not expect payment to be approved without such evidence." The fees had not been approved by a remuneration committee.

"The payment of fees to members of administration staff is unusual," the report said. "We recommend that the university's policy on consultancy fees be reviewed to explicitly state when all staff would be eligible for fees. In our opinion," the report concluded, "this merited further investigation."

The report also criticised the university's lack of a consolidated set of clearly defined financial regulations and procedures to govern the operation of cost centres.

It recommended that:

* the university finalise and publish its financial regulations and its procedures as a matterof urgency

* agreements be entered into with staff involved in any project, specifying what work they are undertaking which makes them eligible for fee payment, and what documentation should beprovided to support

* all payments to senior officers be reported to the remuneration committee

* staff eligible for overtime be compensated for any extra work through the overtime system

* the university fully investigate the payment of overtime where a fee has been paid

* the staffing, management structure and communications arrangements of the project team be reviewed to ensure that they are appropriate for promoting effectiveness and control.

Dr Mawditt said he was not in a position to comment. A spokeswoman for the University of Bath declined to comment on Dr Mawditt's conduct, saying that the audit recommendations were of a general nature. She said that the recommendations had been taken on board.

"The university has published its financial regulations," she said. "And the procedures will be implemented within the forthcoming finance computer system due to operate in April 1997."

A review of the university's consultancy policy is also said to be "in progress" and the payment of overtime "has been fully investigated and acted upon. The university received the final HEFCE Audit Service report in June 1996 and accepts all the recommendations made. It is working to ensure full compliance which is now virtually complete," she said.

BACK TO FACTS

18.5 per cent of first degrees in mathematical sciences last year were at first-class honours level, but only 3.5 per cent of law graduates received a first-class degree

A quarter of part-time taught higher degree students are studying business and administrative studies

Fee income received by universities and colleges from part-time students was over Pounds 240 million last year

Source - All statistics taken from July 1995 returns to HESA

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