No case for disciplining senior London Met staff over financial crisis, says report

An investigation into senior staff at London Metropolitan University has concluded that there is no case for disciplinary action following the financial crisis that engulfed the institution.

October 8, 2010

Eversheds, which carried out the exercise, has “seen no evidence” of “any attempt or collusion to manipulate” the university’s student records system, says a summary report by the law firm published by the university this week.

London Met has been forced to repay tens of millions of pounds after it emerged that there were major errors in the data it returned to the Higher Education Funding Council for England, particularly relating to records of its student dropout rates between 2005 and 2008.

At one stage, the university had declared a student non-completion rate of about 3 per cent when Hefce put the figure at 30 per cent. The figures are crucial because the funding council uses the data in calculating the allocation of public funds.

The revelations led to the March 2009 resignation of Brian Roper as vice-chancellor of London Met. Members of the board of governors who were in place prior to September 2008 have also since stepped down.

In December last year, the university’s board agreed to set up an investigation into the role of the senior staff mentioned in two key reports on the matter prepared by Sir David Melville and the accountancy firm Deloitte.

In March this year, Eversheds advised the board that at that stage, “additional investigations, including interviews and further document recovery” were needed with respect to the deputy vice-chancellor, Bob Aylett, and the finance director, Pam Nelson.

In a statement at the time, the university said Eversheds had found no evidence that justified further investigation of other current employees of the university mentioned in the Melville and Deloitte reports.

The latest report records the outcome of the investigations, with Eversheds concluding that no disciplinary action should be taken.

The firm, which conducted interviews and examined 800 emails, says it believes that the university’s systems “were set up in a way that maximised the returns [on the number of student completions] by accident”.

While the emails show that some members of senior staff had some knowledge that the university and Hefce were using different definitions of student completion, “neither the scale nor the effect of the incorrect returns appears to have been known or considered”, and there is nothing to indicate “any collusion or attempt to obtain Hefce monies in an improper way”.

The report concludes: “We do not consider that the role of any of them would warrant the taking of any disciplinary action, and moreover we do not consider that there would be any credible legal basis for taking such action. It would not be appropriate to proceed with any disciplinary process.”

Eversheds’ report acknowledges that it interviewed a limited number of people, reviewed a limited number of documents, and did not have access to the submissions made in writing to Sir David from employees and trade unions, as these were submitted to him in confidence.

The university’s University and College Union branch said it was concerned about the depth of the investigation.

A spokesman for the London Met UCU branch said: “We understand that the Eversheds report was based on an account of events that itself was based on a very confined inquiry, and that Eversheds did not seek to obtain any of the information that lay behind the Melville or Deliotte reports.

“We had also been told that there would be an investigation into the role of the internal auditors, but that does not appear to have happened.

“Without further information, it would be difficult to avoid the impression that this is anything but a whitewash.

“This will be incredibly disappointing for all those who lost jobs as a result of university mismanagement.”

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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