De Montfort's chief tipped to lead revival

July 30, 1999

The daunting task of rescuing Thames Valley University may go to Kenneth Barker, the 65-year-old vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, who was due to retire next month.

It is understood that Professor Barker is one of three university chiefs who could be named as TVU vice-chancellor next week.

Such an appointment would represent a fundamental change in management style. Professor Barker, who was heading for a peaceful retirement after quietly instigating a major financial turnaround at De Montfort, would be picking up the pieces left by Britain's youngest and most flamboyant vice-chancellor, Mike Fitzgerald, who was 47 when he resigned last November.

Although one vice-chancellor said this week that the job will be easy - "things can only get better at TVU" - the new vice-chancellor will have a lot to do. He will be expected to implement a Pounds 13.5 million, 84-point action plan, devised by the funding council's troubleshooter, Sir William Taylor, who has been acting vice-chancellor during the crisis.

In a climate of long-term industrial unrest, staff are likely to be hit by widespread job losses. Despite a Pounds 7.2 million grant from the funding council, TVU will have to find Pounds 6.3 million through cutting jobs, selling property and increasing income. The plan relies on saving Pounds 8 million per year for three years to get a surplus.

It must all be done against a background of bad publicity and falling student numbers. The TVU action plan envisaged a 15 per cent drop in student recruitment but latest figures show it is down 17 per cent.

Some believe that Professor Barker could not be more qualified for the task. When the then Leicester Polytechnic was incorporated in 1989, it was Pounds 6 million in debt - "technically bankrupt", as Professor Baker described it. This was reversed within two years by a series of aggressive building acquisitions and huge expansion.

De Montfort now provides for 30,000 students in four centres - Leicester, Milton Keynes, Bedford and Lincoln - on ten campuses. The World Bank dubbed De Montfort "the fastest growing university in Western Europe".Saxon-Bamfylde, the headhunters dealing with the appointment, declined to comment.

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