All change again at Gloucestershire as it hunts for another new head

V-c will need to deal with a governance review, debt and a damaging tribunal, writes Simon Baker

November 25, 2010

The University of Gloucestershire is to advertise for a vice-chancellor three months after appointing its acting head to the role.

A spokeswoman for the institution said it would invite external applications for a "permanent" vice-chancellor shortly "as it is required to do by its own Articles".

Paul Hartley became acting vice-chancellor after Patricia Broadfoot announced her retirement earlier this year amid rows over Gloucestershire's financial state.

He was appointed to take over the role in August, although the spokeswoman said the post was only confirmed until July 2011 "to lead the university through a period of significant change".

The prospect of Professor Hartley being succeeded next year comes as a higher education troubleshooter, who produced a major report on failings at the University of Cumbria, carries out a review of governance at Gloucestershire.

David Fletcher, interim chief operating officer at De Montfort University, is set to produce his report by the end of next month.

The university is trying to recover from a £6.3 million deficit in 2008-09, a large debt-to-income ratio and a damaging employment tribunal brought by an internal whistleblower, business development manager Jan Merrigan.

Latest figures show that the institution has cut its long-term debt from £31 million to £26 million and has achieved an "operating" surplus of £5 million in 2009-10. But this does not include "exceptional items", which could push the university into deficit.

Gloucestershire, which is in the midst of a £5 million relocation project, has been forced to submit a revised business plan to the Higher Education Funding Council for England after the original document was rejected.

Meanwhile, a senior manager has come in for criticism in the detailed judgment issued following the employment tribunal that awarded Ms Merrigan £6,000 last month. Ms Merrigan, who still works at Gloucestershire, claimed that she had suffered professionally for drawing attention to financial irregularities.

The judgment says that Kevin Richardson, now dean of the university's Business School, wanted Ms Merrigan sacked and "nowhere near" an investigation into "significant failures" in the financial running of the Faculty of Education, Humanities and Science, where he was head of education.

It says it also accepts Ms Merrigan's evidence to the tribunal that Dr Richardson told her and a colleague that "I don't do budgets" and to "fuck off" when they raised concerns.

Ms Merrigan later alleged in an internal investigation that a deficit in the faculty had been "hidden" and that student numbers were being deliberately overestimated to secure extra funding.

Gloucestershire says in a statement that it will not comment on individuals named in the judgment. It says it disagrees with the tribunal's conclusions but will not "prolong" the dispute given that "the financial allegations made are unfounded".

On other matters, a spokeswoman said: "This is not a university under threat of failing. The university has accrued cash in the bank of £10 million, an improvement of £12.5 million on last year. We have achieved a surplus of £5 million in 2009-10 and have reduced the long-term debt from £31 million to £26 million."

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