The only university in England to offer a substantial discount on student tuition fees is likely to abandon the policy, it has emerged, after the resignation of its vice-chancellor.
Simon Lee, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, announced his resignation last week. He pioneered the "low-charging, high-impact" tuition-fee policy under which Leeds Met charges £2,000 a year in undergraduate fees. The University of Greenwich charges £2,835, and all other universities charge the maximum, £3,145.
But the university's financial statements for the year to July 2008 report that the institution is expecting the next five years to be "extremely challenging", noting that: "deficits are planned for the next three years, while the university continues to charge a tuition fee of £2,000".
They say that the university did not meet its student number targets for the year, resulting in a £1.5 million reduction in its teaching grant. Leeds Met was set to spend £168 million developing its estate between 2003-04 and 2010-11, during which "the net debt position will increase by only £70 million". But funding the development will be dependent on "unlocking the growth in the capital of obsolete land".
At a meeting of the board of governors in July 2008, the executive recommended that the £2,000 fee be maintained for 2009-10, but the minutes note that the university's sustainable planning group's 2010-11 plan "assumed a tuition-fee rise to £3,000". It notes that Professor Lee gave an assurance that he would "increase income and rationalise expenditure on activities where value was not being sufficiently added ... as a corollary of the £2,000 fee for 2009-10".
The minutes say: "The board agreed that the probability was that the ... fee would be raised for 2010-11. Some members of the board argued that a commitment to raise the ... fee for 2010-11 should be made now but others wanted to review the position in 2009."
Minutes of the October board meeting note that financial forecasts submitted to the board in July 2008 "included an assumption, endorsed by the senior executive team, that the undergraduate tuition fee would be raised for 2010-11".
But the minutes add: "There were differing views among governors as to whether a formal decision to raise the fee in 2010-11 had been taken."
At the October meeting, Professor Lee tabled his own set of minutes of the July meeting as he did not agree with the version given to the governors. It is understood that Professor Lee argued that it was agreed tuition fees "could" be raised rather than "would" be raised. Sources at the university suggested that a disagreement over fees policy influenced Professor Lee's decision to resign.
The university's chancellor, athlete Brendan Foster OBE, was also understood to be considering his position.
A Leeds Met spokesperson said: "The chancellor will have completed four years in office by the summer. He is in discussions with the chair of the board of governors about his continuing role."
HIGHS AND LOWS OF PROFESSOR LEE'S VICE-CHANCELLORSHIP
Leeds Metropolitan University becomes the first institution to declare that it will charge £2,000 a year in tuition fees - £1,000 below the upper limit.
Professor Lee is criticised after sending a letter to staff warning that "it is difficult to see why we should continue to employ" staff who do not attend the annual "staff development festival".
The university takes a controlling stake in local rugby club Leeds Tykes - renamed Leeds Carnegie after the university's faculty of education and sport.
Leeds Met's own occupational health adviser warns that the university is vulnerable to legal action because of the number of staff showing symptoms of "psychological ill-health".
A set of ideal staff "attitudes, characters and talents" published by the university warns against those who act like "prima donnas" or who refuse to accept the concept of "students as customers".
An etiquette and style guide written by Professor Lee's wife, Patricia, causes a furore. It advises trainee managers to avoid talking about sex, politics and religion while dining, tells women to avoid looking tarty and explains the right way to eat peas with a fork (never scoop them).
In his daily "VC reflects column", Professor Lee quotes Martin Luther King's final speech before his assassination. "I've been to the mountain top," said King, "and I've looked over and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
WHAT WAS SAID ON THE WEB
When www.timeshighereducation.co.uk broke the news of Simon Lee's departure last week, more than 200 people posted comments on the site.
Posts were deeply divided on Professor Lee's legacy to the university.
"J Tripe" wrote: "Over the past six years the university has been transformed from was left behind in the Fifties to a modern-day university that is recognised globally not just in sport but in all areas."
"I M Happy" replied: "J Tripe is talking a load of tripe! Most staff are relieved to know he is going so perhaps the university can regain its position as a provider of education rather than as a sponsor of sports."