Derby: call for full inquiry

October 29, 1999

Lecturers' union Natfhe is calling for an independent investigation into The THES's revelations that Derby University admitted students to degree courses in Israel without agreed minimum entry requirements. The union is also seeking legal advice to support a member allegedly victimised for blowing the whistle on the case.

The THES revealed in June that Derby had admitted students to degree courses who did not have the Israeli higher education entry qualification, the bagrut.

This was contrary to the agreement the university had made with the Israeli regulating authority, the Higher Education Council.

Angry academics in Derby complained that officials at the university's Israeli franchise partner, Inter College, were ignoring the agreed entry requirements and recruiting under-qualified students to the Derby business degrees for financial reasons.

One Derby Business School academic who complained internally about the lowering of entry standards has been selected for redundancy, prompting allegations of victimisation. Mark Challinor, who has never spoken to The THES, complained in an internal memo to the assistant registrar last year that the agreed rules were being breached.

The memo said: "Our (collaborative arrangements) document clearly states that a full bagrut is the minimum entry requirement. (The Israeli college agent) seems to be suggesting that we allow mature students to enter without this requirement." Mr Challinor said that mature students without the minimum entry qualification should be admitted only after foundation or access courses, on an exceptional basis. "Please therefore do not register students who do not hold a bagrut," he said.

Natfhe's head of higher education, Tom Wilson, said that the union was seeking legal advice to see if Mr Challinor is entitled to compensation for unfair dismissal under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, introduced this year to protect whistleblowers. The university has maintained that it is a simple case of redundancy.

Mr Wilson said he would not comment on any details of the correspondence between the union and the university, but he confirmed that "concerns" about Derby's programmes in Israel, raised last summer by The THES, "have been brought to our attention and we have raised them with the university". He said that the union has reserved the right to mount its own investigation.

One source at Natfhe's national office said the union was seeking a full independent inquiry.

Alan Woods, chair of governors at Derby, said he could not comment this week as he was unfamiliar with the details, having just returned from a period abroad.

"I am aware that something is going on, and I have meetings scheduled with the university next week," he said.

A spokeswoman for Derby university confirmed that it had recieved a letter from the union. She confirmed that Natfhe intended to pass documentation to an independent third party, and that the union would not "endorse" the allegations until they obtained full substantiation.

"It does not appear that the university will be able to comment on any of the documentation in order for the third party to reach a judgement," she said.

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