Staff promised bright new year as London Met aims to move on quickly

Governors agree to resign after Hefce threatens to withdraw funding. Rebecca Attwood writes

December 31, 2009

Staff at scandal-struck London Metropolitan University have been promised that the prospects for the new year are looking "much brighter" after the university's governors agreed to resign.

In a message informing staff of their departure, Alfred Morris, the university's interim vice-chancellor, says the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the board of governors are both committed to "moving through this difficult stage as quickly as possible".

Malcolm Gillies, the university's new vice-chancellor, who takes up his post on 25 January, "will need your patience as well as your support", the message says.

It adds: "The prospects for the new year are now looking much brighter ... My thanks for quite extraordinary commitment to students in what has been a very difficult year."

The university's governors agreed to go at a board meeting held on 15 December after funding chiefs threatened to stop financing the institution.

Peter Anwyl, chair of the board, will stand down by the end of March 2010, and a new audit committee will be in place by April 2010. All board members who were in place in the period up to 31 August 2008 are to step down by 31 August 2010. However, the University and College Union said the resignations needed to happen "now rather than months down the line".

The university has been embroiled in a row with the funding council after it emerged it had massively overclaimed public funding as a result of inaccurately reported student dropout rates.

Brian Roper, who was in charge when the flawed data returns were submitted, resigned as vice-chancellor in March, and the university is now being forced to hand back tens of millions of pounds, leaving hundreds of jobs at risk.

The latest resignations follow a series of reports detailing poor governance and management at London Met.

In a letter to Mr Anwyl on 14 December, Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce's chief executive, called for all board members who were part of the audit committee during the period to stand down "immediately".

Sir Alan said he would "press for urgent action" and review whether the university should continue to receive public funding if he was not assured that the board was responding "promptly and appropriately" to reports into the fiasco by Sir David Melville, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, and the accounting firm Deloitte.

His letter also reveals that he has recommended that the board "should take advice on whether or not the former vice-chancellor failed in his fiduciary duties and what prospect there is of recovering money for the public purse."

A joint statement from Hefce and the board of governors on 17 December said that the board, on the advice of Professor Gillies, would set up an investigation into the role of senior staff who were criticised in the Melville and Deloitte reports.

Professor Gillies will undertake governance and management reforms. The board of governors and Hefce will receive quarterly progress reports, with the first due in April.

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