Mike Thorne, appointed vice-chancellor of the University of East London this week, has his work cut out for him. Once he has steered the institution through its emergency financial recovery plan, he must see it through a merger with London Guildhall University and the University of North London.
The university was £2.5 million in the red last year. Student numbers are falling and staff redundancies expected. The institution has blamed its misfortune on the ambitious expansion targets set by government, which have led to more prestigious institutions snapping up students who would normally have gone to universities such as UEL.
The three institutions share similar student profiles and difficulties with finance and industrial relations. They hope a merger will allow them to play to their strengths.
Professor Thorne is currently vice-principal of Napier University, which he joined in 1997 following a spell as pro vice-chancellor of the University of Sunderland. While at Sunderland, he became involved in the University for Industry project.
Professor Thorne champions developments in the world of business and commerce and seeks to help higher education learn from them. He has warned of the dangers of corporate providers moving into the distance-learning market. Part of Napier University's response was to become a founder member of Scottish Knowledge, which exports university and college expertise in education and training.
Professor Thorne's industrial links include membership of two government Foresight panels, which seek to identify technical challenges. He also sits on the advisory board of the International Teledemocracy Centre, run by Napier in collaboration with BT Scotland. The centre aims "to develop and apply advanced information and communication technology to enhance and support the democratic decision-making process".