Basic economics: make sure the staff are paid

Buckingham unaware that college it validates has slipped again. David Matthews writes

August 23, 2012

A private college validated by the University of Buckingham has been failing to pay its lecturers, a decade after Times Higher Education revealed a similar problem while the institution was partnered with Nottingham Trent University.

Six lecturers have told THE that the London branch of the European School of Economics has failed to pay them on time. Some said they were owed thousands of pounds, and others reported payment problems going back to March this year.

The school has centres in London, New York, Rome, Milan, Florence and Madrid. It offers bachelor's and master's degrees validated by Buckingham, and the London centre has more than 210 students, according to the Quality Assurance Agency.

In June 2002, the ESE was reported to have failed to pay staff. Lecturers withheld marks in protest, and one even hired a debt collector to retrieve salary payments.

In November 2002, Nottingham Trent stopped validating courses at the ESE after a "strategic review".

Then, in 2005, Buckingham agreed to validate the school. Its vice-chancellor, Terence Kealey, said at the time that the university had carried out extensive due diligence and was confident that it could "knock the ESE into shape".

Asked about the recent problems, a university spokeswoman said that Buckingham had "not been aware of any lecturer on the ESE London campus being paid late and none has contacted the university".

'Continual review'

The New York branch had a dispute over a lecturer's pay, but Buckingham had "received assurances" that this issue "has been dealt with", the spokeswoman said.

"The continuation of all our validations is under continual review," she said. Despite declining to reveal commercially sensitive information about its income from the ESE, she said it accounts for "less than 2 per cent" of Buckingham's turnover.

After THE's enquiries to ESE lecturers, Patricia Berth, campus director of the ESE in London, told staff in an email subsequently passed to THE that "we appreciate your patience in this matter [and] ESE can reassure you that all outstanding payments will be cleared soon".

Ms Berth later told THE that there was no "situation" regarding the ESE's "financial obligations" that "merits the attention of the press".

But she added that the "ESE has stipulated a variety of agreements that arrange for modular payments of varying intervals".

"This has been made necessary by the global financial crisis that has given rise to difficulties on the part of families to meet their obligations to ESE by the normal due dates," she explained.

The president of the school, Elio D'Anna, has written a book called The School for Gods in which a mysterious "Dreamer" figure guides the author to create the ESE.

"'Create a true and living school, not based on books. At the core of its teaching will be the Art of Dreaming'," the Dreamer tells the author.

The QAA expressed confidence in the school's quality and standards after a review conducted in March as part of the educational oversight inspection system of private colleges that was introduced last year.

However, it recommended that the ESE "review the provision and accessibility of library resources". A QAA spokeswoman said the agency does not assess colleges' financial arrangements.

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