London Met’s financial future hangs in the balance

Outcome of board meeting will determine whether Hefce offers the beleaguered institution more funds. Melanie Newman reports

December 14, 2009

The financial future of London Metropolitan University rests on the outcome of a meeting of its board of governors on 15 December.

The board’s response to two critical reports into the problems with student-completion data that led to the clawback of tens of millions of pounds will determine whether the Higher Education Funding Council for England grants the institution’s requests for extra cash.

A memo seen by Times Higher Education from Alfred Morris, London Met’s acting vice-chancellor, to Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce’s chief executive, sets out a record of meetings between the university and the funding council.

It says that Hefce’s “perception of the adequacy of the board of governors’ response” to the reports by Sir David Melville and Deloitte “would be critical to the restoration of confidence and hence to the Strategic Development Fund bid and any requests for further assistance”.

The Melville and Deloitte reports criticise the university’s senior management and governors for allowing inaccurate student-completion data to be supplied to Hefce between 2005 and 2008.

The memo, written on 11 November, also shows that Mr Morris believes London Met’s incoming vice-chancellor, since confirmed as Malcolm Gillies, could take five years to “turn around” the institution to the point where it could be removed from Hefce’s list of institutions at high risk of financial failure. He says the new vice-chancellor would be expected to seek Hefce’s support for a bid for strategic development cash next March.

Professor Gillies will take up the vice-chancellorship in January. He is also likely to ask for a renegotiation of the repayment schedules for the £36 million overpaid by Hefce as a result of the data inaccuracies.

The memo reports Sir Alan as saying that “it would not be easy to persuade the Hefce board of the case for significant further support” without “the restoration of mutual respect”.

Sir Alan has since written to the governors asking them to consider their positions.

The University and College Union is calling for the governors to step down at the board meeting, which will be held on 15 December at 5pm.

Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, said: “London Met desperately needs a fresh start and that cannot happen with the current board of governors in place.

“The position of the board is completely untenable and it will cause greater damage by remaining in post. Nobody can have confidence in the university until there has been a proper shake-up at the top and those behind the current shambles have gone.”

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