Luton billed for virtual failure

July 11, 2003

Luton University faces a legal bill of up to £300,000 for its role as a member of a European Commission research consortium that bungled plans to set up a European virtual university, writes Phil Baty.

The THES reported in January that the High Court had ordered the consortium, the European Network for Integrated Materials Management (Enimm), to pay its former director, Peter Goodall, £250,000 when he won a claim for unpaid management fees and damages over his enforced departure from the consortium in 2001.

Although Luton resigned from Enimm at least a year ago, it was one of the last organisations to quit the virtual university project and so is liable for Enimm's bills.

Last week, Luton - which has already paid £50,000 to settle separate outstanding debts for Enimm - failed in a bid to have the judgment in Mr Goodall's favour set aside. Mr Goodall said this week that he would seek an enforcement order against Luton to pay the £250,000 with interest.

Mr Goodall set up Enimm as a European Commission economic interest group in 1994. Luton, Sunderland and Sheffield Hallam universities signed up. Enimm won £2.3 million under the European Social Fund's Adapt scheme for projects to develop online training material for small businesses and to set up a company to host the material at a pioneering internet-based "university".

But the project collapsed after Mr Goodall sacked the company developing the website and when academics failed to deliver content on time. The management stagnated as Mr Goodall and his co-manager, Richard Bennett, fought with each other.

After quitting Enimm in June 2001, Mr Goodall was sued by Mr Bennett, who said he had misspent £13,000 of company money. Mr Goodall counterclaimed and as the defunct Enimm put in no defence, Mr Goodall won.

Luton said this week: "It would be inappropriate for the university to make any comment at the moment as our understanding is that the matter is not concluded."

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