Embattled Luton v-c to retire at 60

August 23, 2002

One of the toughest jobs in higher education has become vacant after an announcement that Dai John will take early retirement as vice-chancellor of Luton University.

Dr John will leave Luton next year as the university adjusts to plummeting student numbers, following a programme of course cuts and redundancies.

His announcement came three months after 17 Luton academics signed a letter calling for his suspension and an inquiry into the management of the university, and three weeks after quality watchdogs raised concerns about the safeguarding of the university's academic standards.

In his announcement last week, Dr John said that he would leave in October 2003, on his 60th birthday. "The terms of my contract would allow me to go on for several months longer, but I felt this would be inappropriate," he said.

Speaking to The THES , he stressed that he had chosen to go. He said the governing body had wanted him to stay, and if he had chosen to serve beyond his 60th birthday it would have been "delighted" to have kept him. "But I have come to the end of my five-year contract and I always said I wanted to go at 60," he said.

Dr John said in his announcement to staff: "The repositioning of the university's academic provision is well advanced, and all the strategic options relating to estates, collaborative alliances etc have been set out.

"Certainly, by 2003 the key decisions in all these areas will have been made one way or the other, and it would obviously be more sensible for the new vice-chancellor to take these forward."

As part of a dramatic survival plan last year, Luton abandoned the teaching of almost all traditional academic disciplines, including politics, history and English, in favour of more popular vocational courses. It made 60 redundancies.

As a result of the changes, the university this week faced an unfair dismissal claim from five senior academics, including the head of English and a professor of history, at an employment tribunal.

Documents obtained by The THES also show that Dr John feared that separate plans to reform the university's administration were "a shambles".

In April, 17 former Luton academics signed a letter to The THES expressing "grave concern about the management of our former university". They called for a funding council inquiry and said that Dr John should be suspended until it was completed.

The university saw its budget cut by 7.5 per cent cent this year, the highest percentage cut for any university, and faced a 26.5 per cent drop in applications by June 30. Dr John told The THES that the university was recruiting overseas very well, and was focusing more on postgraduate recruitment.

In his announcement, Dr John said a key reason for his decision to leave was family circumstances. He said that he had told governors of his intention to retire as early as December last year and confirmed it last month, to allow a year for the university to find a replacement.

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