Quality chief takes Soton Institute helm

April 24, 1998

A FORMER quality chief whose organisation put the first dent in Southampton Institute's reputation has now the task of repairing the damage.

Roger Brown is cheerfully facing the challenge of becoming principal in the knowledge that the institute's troubled past may soon be raked over again by the National Audit Office.

If the NAO produces its promised report this summer, it will no doubt revisit the highly critical audit report on the institute's overseas links published two years ago by the Higher Education Quality Council when Dr Brown was its chief executive.

One satisfaction Dr Brown may get is the opportunity of phasing out some of the more problematic links. While a long-established programme run in Dublin will continue, other shakier operations in Murcia and Alicante are to be scaled down. "I have no great ambition to go around the world signing up institutions. It is quite clear we did not do very well on that front, and the sensible thing to do is to pull out," he said.

On the home front, Dr Brown's strategy for improving the institute's image has more to do with building links than severing them. He intends to introduce a management style that involves academics in all faculties in decision-making.

The bad publicity engendered by internal wrangles between former director David Leyland, governors, senior managers and staff, was "out of all proportion" to the real problems, Dr Brown insisted.

Nevertheless, the full extent of those problems will also come out in the NAO report, if it publishes the conclusions of an audit report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England on governance and management.

The confidential report says divisions within the institute's board of governors meant it was unable to compensate for the "lack of unity and leadership at directorate level" under Professor Leyland. It says a paper written by Professor Leyland criticising the board "might be seen by some as an attempt to intimidate". After interviewing governors, HEFCE auditors concluded: "Our interpretation of the way that management respond to criticism is that they become defensive and aggressive."

Dr Brown said a new corporate strategy is needed to improve internal communications and re-establish working relations between management, governors and staff.

The institute - with 15,000 students, a healthy recruitment record despite the troubles and a turnover of nearly Pounds 50 million - has plenty going for it if it can shake off the recent problems, Dr Brown said. Its reputation should be good enough to avoid the need for any name changes, including bids for university college status.

"We will be applying for taught degree-awarding powers at some point. But we do not fit with the concept of a university college. Even if the title was available, we would not use it," he said.

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