Regulations governing the re-employment of university staff who have already received severance payments should be tightened, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was told this week.
Graeme Davies, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, told Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West: "If anyone is re-employed on this basis it should not lead to their receiving greater benefits from public funds than would have been the case if they had stayed on in their original job or be timed so as to raise doubts about it being a genuine redundancy".
Twenty-four cases of re-employment were revealed by a National Audit Office report on severance payments for senior staff in publicly-funded higher education in England compiled following controversy last year over the departure of the vice chancellors of Huddersfield and Portsmouth universities. Professor Davies told Alan Milburn, Labour MP for Darlington, that such arrangements were often made for good academic reasons and none of the cases caused him serious concern, but that there was potential for the misuse of public money.
The session which considered the report saw less aggressive questioning than is normal at PAC. Neither Professor Davies nor the other witness Sir William Taylor, acting vice chancellor of Huddersfield University, could be held directly responsible for the Portsmouth and Huddersfield rows.
Sir William said that staff, student and community representatives had always been an asset to governing bodies. He told the committee that the removal of such representatives from the governing body had sparked off the Huddersfield row.
* All but one of the "potentially unusual payments" revealed by the report was within relevant pension schemes and inherited contractual conditions, the Further Education Funding Council has found.