Auditors rule out suppression at Soton

November 22, 1996

CLAIMS that a Higher Education Quality Council report on Southampton Institute was suppressed by the institute's management are "not sustainable", say auditors from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The report, published in May, criticised quality arrangements. This added to adverse publicity about the institute's overseas set up, which is believed to have caused recruitment problems leading to the closure of its Athens campus.

But a probe by HEFCE's audit service into accusations that the institute's management tried to stop governors from seeing the report found no grounds for the clAIMS. The report purportedly suppressed was a copy given to management as a courtesy by HEQC following disagreements about "certain statements" in the draft.

The HEFCE paper explains that institute director, David Leyland, "took exception to the report for a number of reasons including that it drew conclusions about the Athens quality assurance arrangements after only six weeks of operation; because it quoted staff confusion about the institute's Bombay MBA project after talking to maritime studies and engineering lecturers who would have little to do with the course; and because in his view it changed errors from statements of fact to statements of belief rather than retracting those errors".

Despite these reservations, "the director took action to attempt to resolve disagreements about drafting in the normal manner of audit report clearance procedures in advance of a final version being published," the paper adds.

It concludes: "Ultimately, we noted that there is no means of preventing the governors reading the report since it becomes a public document when, as now, it is published, and so the allegation of suppression is not sustainable."

HEFCE also dismisses reports that votes of no confidence by staff and students were disregarded by the director, as these came from a minority and so indicated only "a partial lack of faith in management or management style".

But the paper recommends the institute take several steps to prevent problems. They include building on "acknowledged strengths" rather than "becoming over-entrepreneurial in a time of sector consolidation"; subjecting all overseas operations to updated costings; keeping a register of senior managers' interests; and ensuring finance chiefs are alert to "unusual features of overseas journeys".

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