Chief executive of defunct English regulator paid £178K on early exit

Hefce's Madeleine Atkins received payment in lieu of salary for remainder of contract, but declined 'redundancy payment'

April 12, 2018
madeleine atkins, hefce
Madeleine Atkins

Madeleine Atkins, the former chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was paid £178,000 on the remainder of her contract when the organisation ceased to exist.

Hefce’s operations ended on 31 March and it has been superseded by the Office for Students and Research England.

Senior pay in higher education has become a high-profile issue in the media and Hefce, as then regulator of the English sector, issued its own guidance to institutions on severance pay and remuneration of senior staff in June 2017.

Times Higher Education understands that at Hefce’s final board meeting on 9 March, the organisation’s chair, Sir Tim Melville-Ross, announced to board members that an agreement, "agreed and approved" by ministers, had been reached with Professor Atkins – citing a figure in the region of £280,000.

Sir Tim is thought to have told the board that there were two issues: that Professor Atkins was due eight months of payments on the remainder of her contract, and that there was an existing agreement in place about the subsequent renewal of her contract.

But it has emerged subsequently that Professor Atkins has declined to take a £67,250 “redundancy payment” that comprised part of the figure in the region of £280,000, instead opting for it to be paid to charity. However, a £177,728 payment in lieu of salary for the remainder of her contract has gone ahead. THE understands that the remainder of the larger figure cited at the board meeting is made up of bonus payments to Professor Atkins for the years 2016-17 and 2017-18 totalling around £35,000.

Asked by THE about the details of Professor Atkins’ package, Sir Tim said in a statement that her role as Hefce chief executive “ended on 31 March 2018, before the end of her contract”.

He continued: “In accordance with her employment rights she received a payment of £177,728 in lieu of her basic salary for the notice period 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018. This payment was agreed and approved by the Department for Education following HM Treasury guidelines for such circumstances and was subject to normal tax deductions. Professor Atkins was also entitled to a redundancy payment of £67,250 which she has declined to take and asked for the payment to be made to charity.

“These details, and the details of Professor Atkins’ salary in 2016-17 and 2017-18, will be included in the Hefce annual report and accounts to be published later this year.

“Professor Atkins has agreed to make herself available to provide support and advice to the Office for Students and Research England regarding any legacy issues relating to Hefce for a period of two years. She has also been in discussion with the Department for Education regarding how her extensive expertise and experience can continue to be made available.”

THE understands that there is a “mitigation clause” in the agreement with Professor Atkins, stating that she will make repayments to the Department for Education on her payment in lieu of salary if she finds another permanent role in 2018.

Professor Atkins was paid a salary of £263,865 in 2016-17 – although this included “non-consolidated pay of £27,500 which Professor Atkins donated to charity” – according to Hefce’s annual report.

Hefce’s annual report states that Professor Atkins was “appointed for a five-year term which began in January 2014 and her contract stipulates a six-month notice period”. It adds: “Other than the possibility of payment in lieu of notice, there are no explicit contractual provisions for compensation for early termination of the chief executive.”

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