The University of Gloucestershire has been accused of lacking transparency after it emerged that it has agreed to form a partnership with private firm INTO to develop its business school.
At a governing council vote on the tie-up, one member objected to the partnership, three members were away and two left the meeting before the poll was taken, Times Higher Education has learned, out of a total membership of 17.
Although it is understood that INTO is the firm involved, the university refused to confirm this to THE, and would say only that it was exploring a joint venture with a “new partner”.
The university did not reveal specific details of what the partnership might involve, but one option thought to have been discussed is for INTO to fund the construction of a new business school in return for joint ownership.
At a meeting in March, the council voted by a “large majority” to pursue the partnership “in principle”, according to a spokesman for the university.
“With the backing of a new partner, we can potentially secure additional investment, expertise and international networks that will bring significant benefits for students, staff and business,” he said.
The INTO venture would form part of a new “Growth Hub” designed to support local businesses in collaboration with the local enterprise partnership. It has secured £2.7 million in public money from the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s Catalyst Fund, and will open this autumn.
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said that there were “large sums of money at risk” in the proposed venture and that there had to be “a proper transparent consultation. Unfortunately, this process looks like anything but that.”
She pointed to the fact that council members had been absent from the vote, and added: “This is a serious decision and needs proper scrutiny before it is allowed to advance any further.”
THE first reported in February that Gloucestershire was mulling a partnership with the firm, of which the majority is owned by its founder Andrew Colin, although last year it sold a 25 per cent stake to the New York-based private equity firm Leeds Equity Partners.
According to the UCU, the deal would be the first time a UK university jointly runs a department that teaches UK students with a for-profit company.