Bath v-c urged to quit over critical Hefce report

University and College Union branch calls for a ‘fresh start’ after watchdog body highlights ‘poor governance’ and lack of transparency over senior pay

November 20, 2017
University of Bath campus
The University of Bath

Staff at the University of Bath have called for the resignation of its vice-chancellor after the institution was criticised by regulators for its “flawed” handling of a controversial vote on her remuneration.

At the instigation of Labour peer Lord Adonis, the Higher Education Funding Council for England investigated whether a meeting of Bath’s university court, held on 23 July, had adhered to rules on good governance.

Several other governance matters surrounding the setting of senior pay at Bath were also referred to Hefce by Lord Adonis, who has repeatedly attacked the £451,000 pay and benefits package awarded to Bath’s vice-chancellor Dame Glynis Breakwell in 2015-16.

As revealed by Times Higher Education in January, this made her the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, with reports this weekend suggesting that her 2016-17 pay and benefits rose to £468,000.

In its report, published on 20 November, Hefce says that it did not approach Bath about the salary level of senior staff because “to do so would have been beyond our statutory remit as laid down by Parliament”.

However, it did examine the handling of the 23 February university court meeting at which a motion was proposed to express concern to council “at the lack of transparency and accountability of the remuneration committee and the decisions the remuneration committee has made in the past year”.

This motion was defeated by 33 votes to 30 after Dame Glynis and at least five others whose pay is set by the remuneration committee voted against it, according to the Hefce review.

The funding council found that the “handling of the motion proposed by a court member…was flawed and has, in our view, resulted in damage to the reputation of the university”.

Several court members who voted were “clearly conflicted by the motion under consideration” and, if they had abstained from voting, “it is almost certain that the motion would have been passed rather than defeated”, says the report.

It recommends that Bath responds to Hefce’s view that the vote was “both poorly handled and flawed, and that this has damaged the reputation of the university”.

“In the interests of transparency, the university’s response should be fully minuted if given at the next court meeting or presented as a written addendum to the minutes, if given before the meeting,” it says.

Calling for Dame Glynis’ resignation after the publication of the review’s findings, Michael Carley, president of Bath’s University and College Union branch, said that “the time has come for a fresh start if the university is to recover its reputation as a centre of academic excellence”.

“For too long the governing body has failed to hold senior managers to account and ignored warnings from staff and students that this would cause lasting reputational damage," he said.

“Corporate greed and ineptitude are now overshadowing our high-quality teaching and research,” added Dr Carley, who said that the “vice-chancellor and governing body inspire no confidence and should step aside”.

Ahead of the report’s publication, Lord Adonis tweeted that the report was a “make-or-break moment for English universities” adding that “if the vice-chancellor has not resigned by close of play this evening, a tsunami of controversy will follow”.

In a statement, Thomas Sheppard, Bath’s chair of council, said that the university would “accept the findings of the Hefce report and are open to all its recommendations”.

“The governing body of the university, its council, will meet shortly and we will be looking at the recommendations in detail,” he added.

In addition to the finding of “poor governance”, the Hefce investigation concluded that “poor judgement was exercised in certain instances in connection with the declaration of interests”, which, with other issues, “resulted in damage to the reputation of the university”.

It published 12 other recommendations on governance, stating that the university “has a significant distance to travel to open the work of its remuneration committee to legitimate scrutiny through enhancing its use of various measures of transparency and in order to meet the increasing demands for this from many stakeholder groups and society at large”.

“We note with disappointment that the university did not respond more proactively to the representations made about the remuneration committee in recent years,” it adds, stating that these “representations have been made in good faith”.

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