Call for probe into takeover of Japanese specialist

September 10, 2004

The Charity Commission has been asked to investigate Reading University's planned takeover of a unique college specialising in British degrees for Japanese students.

Reading intends to take over Witan International College, a private college that has charitable status and that shares Reading's London Way campus.

The university confirmed this week that it was due to strike a deal very soon. It plans to create a new charitable company to run the college, and said in a statement that its primary concern would be to support the existing students.

But it warned: "The university cannot envisage the circumstances under which the college could continue in its current form beyond the graduation of the last students in 2008."

This has alarmed Witan students, who are mostly Japanese.

Rafal Demczuk, Witan's student representative, wrote to Gordon Marshall, Reading's vice-chancellor: "The situation today is that your university is going to take over the college, thus ending its existence and demonstrating utter disregard for the existing students and staff."

Mr Demczuk copied his letter to the Charity Commission along with a formal complaint.

The college, which originates from the 123-year-old Gyosei High School in Tokyo, Japan, registered as a charity in Britain in 1988 and was launched into the UK education market in 1990. Its income in 2002 was £4.6 million.

Witan was criticised by the Charity Commission last year for weak financial controls and has been relying on a large subsidy from a Japanese benefactor. An internal college review concluded that Witan had insufficient resources to continue as an independent institution.

Reading said this week that the college would be a wholly owned subsidiary company of the university. It said a review of arrangements at the college, including the role of members of staff, would be carried out.

The Charity Commission said it had not decided whether to investigate Mr Demczuk's complaint.

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