A catalogue of mismanagement by a husband-and-wife team at Hull University, involving the irregular inflation of overseas students' degree results and unaccountable decision-making, has attracted the attention of education secretary David Blunkett.
Documents obtained by The THES reveal that in response to a request from Mr Blunkett, the Higher Education Funding Council has been examining the record of Richard Briston, former dean of the faculty of social sciences at Hull, and his wife Moyra Kedslie, former head of Hull's school of accounting, business and finance.
Both were demoted after the university held internal inquiries. But Professor Briston remains professor of accounting and finance at Hull, and Dr Kedslie, who took early retirement last year with a pension enhancement that cost the university Pounds 28,000, is now deputy president of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. She is expected to be made its president in May.
A letter written last month to Mr Blunkett from HEFCE chief executive Brian Fender reveals that Professor Briston and Dr Kedslie were "rebuked" by Hull's vice-chancellor in 1996 following an internal investigation into a decision to change degree results.
In June 1996 Hull's board of examiners issued a pass list in which "a group of Malaysian students" were given third-class degrees. But 12 of them were within three percentage points of a 2:2, Professor Fender explained. Professor Briston, after consulting an external examiner, changed the results to a 2:2.
Professor Fender said that an internal inquiry found that the "original exam board and external examiner were not professional" and that "there was a lack of care towards (the) Malaysians".
But although they were rebuked, Professor Briston and Dr Kedslie were cleared of "corruption", as "the end result was acceptable" because the students had been borderline and language difficulties had not been taken into account, the internal investigation found.
Dr Kedslie quit as head of the school of accounting and finance in January 1998 in the middle of an investigation into management, as Whistleblowers revealed last summer (THES, September 3, 1999). The investigation, prompted by "a period of unrest and a number of complaints", concluded (in May 1998) that:
"Management and policy-making ... was highly concentrated in the head of the school and that in many cases, key decisions ... on resource allocation ... were made without full consultation and debate within the school ... Policy-making may have been swayed too much by short-term financial concerns."
The report said: "We are far from convinced that all the income-generating activities in which the school has become engaged represent the best use of the school's or university's resources."
Professor Fender's letter to Mr Blunkett also reveals that the school of management at Hull, brought under the stewardship of Professor Briston in 1997, made a trading loss of Pounds 500,000 that year. Professor Fender said that an audit had concluded : "The causes were believed to be inadequate control, full cost of overseas activity not calculated, inadequate financial appraisal and inadequate debt control."
A spokesman for Hull declined to discuss any of the detailed points raised by The THES in relation to Professor Briston or Dr Kedslie. He said that during the restructure of six schools into a faculty of social sciences in 1997, Professor Briston, as dean, "instituted a number of reviews of the constituent units ... Some of the reviews resulted in recommendations relating to improved systems of running the academic areas concerned. None of them resulted in any allegations of malpractice. Most of the recommendations of these reviews have been implemented."
He confirmed Dr Kedslie's early retirement, but would not comment on her pension enhancement. Professor Briston and Dr Kedslie declined to comment. Want to blow the whistle?
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