Cumbria appoints interim v-c after leader leaves job he says was 'mis-sold'

May 27, 2010

The University of Cumbria's vice-chancellor has left his job after less than a year, reportedly feeling that the post was "mis-sold" to him as he was not given full warning of the institution's dire finances.

The departure of Peter McCaffery was announced on 19 May. The university said the decision was taken by "mutual consent".

Graham Upton, former vice-chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, was appointed interim vice-chancellor.

Cumbria is likely to face a deficit of £30 million by the end of the financial year, having faced a series of problems since its formation from a merger of further and higher education colleges in August 2007.

The extent of Cumbria's financial problems first emerged publicly with news of an £8.4 million deficit in November 2009. Dr McCaffery had been appointed in July of that year.

A university spokesman said of Dr McCaffery's departure: "It's fair to say that Peter's interpretation was that he was mis-sold the job. He held a series of staff forums, attended by everyone at the university, where he openly said that when he turned up he was told that the deficit was somewhere in the region of £3 million - which, if I recall, he said was manageable given the fact we were a new institution (with) the start-up costs involved."

The university needed advanced funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England to pay staff wages in March.

Cumbria's finance and human resource directors both have their posts funded by Hefce.

John Parr, the HR director, said in an email to staff that the BBC had reported "quite incorrectly" that Dr McCaffery had resigned, however no further light was shed on his departure.

Dr McCaffery could not be contacted for comment.

One theory on Dr McCaffery's exit is that his decision to advertise five senior posts during financial troubles sparked a dispute with the board of governors.

On 17 May, two days before Dr McCaffery left, Cumbria published a new 2010-20 business plan intended to plot a course to recovery.

The plan refers to "some exceptional demands and pressures on management and directors ... including persistent ones from third parties who viewed the university as the vehicle for their own development - which were exacerbated by changes in the senior team and in leadership over this critical formative period."

The document says that the original business plan submitted by the university in July 2008 was "simply not achievable", with key factors including the credit crunch, the cap on student numbers, a decline in government investment and "the transfer of unsustainable estate (Newton Rigg) to the university without the anticipated £25 million capital investment from the Learning and Skills Council". It has been reported that the university failed to apply for the LSC grant.

High staff costs from the outset - amounting to 73 per cent of income - led to Cumbria starting out in a financially weak position.

The new plan sets out a mission to boost income, including measures to increase overseas student recruitment and develop "full-cost courses in niche areas of provision".

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