London Met offers reassurances to s taff after v-c's sudden exit

'No threat' to the university's future, says chair of the board of governors. Rebecca Attwood reports

March 26, 2009

Staff at London Metropolitan University have been told there is "no threat" to the long-term wellbeing of the institution, after the sudden departure of its vice-chancellor.

On 19 March, the university announced that Brian Roper had decided to step down "to take up the opportunity of early retirement and to pursue other interests".

A statement says: "(Mr Roper) has made a significant contribution to the university and, on behalf of the board of governors, the university would like to pay tribute to his energy and determination in delivering (its) mission and to thank him for his ... efforts. Although (he) will not be leaving the university until the end of December 2009, he has stepped down from the role of vice-chancellor with immediate effect."

In a later message to staff, Peter Anwyl, chairman of London Met's board of governors, writes: "I think it's important to let you know that I, and the ... board of governors, have full confidence in the executive group, who will continue to lead the university.

"There is no threat to the long-term wellbeing of the institution, which continues to provide high-quality education to ... students, delivering the mission to which we are all committed."

As first reported by Times Higher Education in July 2008, the Higher Education Funding Council for England reduced London Met's grant for 2008-09 by £15 million, after it discovered that the institution had made incorrect data returns. It may claw back an additional £38 million overpaid to the university between 2005 and 2008.

In February, Mr Roper proposed cutting up to 550 full-time equivalent posts by July 2010, which the London Met branch of the University and College Union said could affect as many as 700 staff.

After Mr Roper's departure, London Met's union branches called for a suspension of the redundancy plans.

"We hope that this will be the first step in a process towards creating a more collegial university environment in which management and staff are able to engage in meaningful dialogue," a spokesman for the UCU and Unison said.

Mr Roper, 59, ran the University of North London from 1994 until its merger with London Guildhall University in 2002, when it became London Met. He was appointed chief executive of the new institution.

Prior to that, he was deputy vice-chancellor at Oxford Polytechnic - now Oxford Brookes University.

In an interview with Times Higher Education in October, Mr Roper said the universities of Oxford and Cambridge should go private because public money was better spent on universities "that transform people's lives" rather than on "finishing schools" for the privileged.

As Times Higher Education went to press, Robert Aylett, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at London Met, was appointed acting vice-chancellor and chief executive.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

REJOICING, WORRIES AND PASSION FOR INSTITUTION

Moments after www.timeshighereducation.co.uk reported the news that Brian Roper had given up the helm of London Metropolitan University, the website began to record an outpouring of emotion.

Among the many comments posted under the news item so far, there was some rejoicing.

"It is not very often you come into work at London Met and get ... some good news," said one poster.

But there were also concerns expressed about the university's future.

"I'm really surprised at the vulture-like reaction to the v-c going," said one post. "I'd like to know when those people who declare themselves 'happy' with the news will start supporting the institution, because it seems to me they have gone out of their way to contribute to its demise."

But most were united by their passion for London Met: "I've found that lecturing staff do a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances," said one external examiner, adding that the university has the potential not only to survive, but also to "surprise and thrive".

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