Whistleblowers: Derby ducks tribunal

January 12, 2001

Higher education's first tribunal case under the law to protect whistleblowers from victimisation has been settled.

Derby University has reached an agreement with senior lecturer Mark Challinor, who claimed that he had been victimised for raising questions about quality shortcomings in the university's multimillion-pound franchise operations in Israel.

The Nottingham tribunal had already heard at the start of the case in September last year that Mr Challinor had suffered from "a relentless campaign and ongoing policy of the university to undermine and marginalise him" after he began to raise the alarm about the franchise with Inter College, Israel, in 1998.

When Mr Challinor warned his managers that Inter College was breaching procedures, "the University of Derby's reaction was to shoot the messenger", Mr Challinor's counsel, Jacque Algazy, told the tribunal. Mr Challinor was removed from the project, was made redundant in July 1999 and was later redeployed.

Derby failed in its attempt to have the case thrown out on the grounds that Mr Challinor's disclosures were made in 1998, before the Public Interest Disclosure Act came into force on July 2 1999. The university decided to settle before its defence was due to be heard last month.

In a separate dispute, Mr Challinor was facing disciplinary action by the university, which had accused him of misconduct for registering the university's name in a number of website addresses. Mr Challinor's union said he had given up the right to the internet domain names, and said the university's action was part of the victimisation.

This week, in a statement that was agreed between the two parties, the university said: "We can confirm that the University of Derby and Mark Challinor have agreed terms of a settlement that will draw to a close all outstanding issues between them. These issues are solely in relation to Mr Challinor's employment, including the partly heard employment tribunal brought under the Public Interest Disclosure ActI The settlement does not reflect any liability on either party, and all details of that settlement shall remain confidential under the terms of our agreement."

The statement confirmed that both parties "will part company amicably". "We are both pleased with this outcome, which means we can now look to the future and move forward confidently." Neither would comment further about the settlement or related matters.

Mr Challinor's concerns about quality control were largely justified. The THES reported on problems in summer 1999, including the fact that that minimum entry requirements were being ignored by Inter College. More than a year after the THES reports, a Quality Assurance Agency investigation concluded that the operation had been set up with "insufficient care and prudence" and had been run in a way that "did not secure the quality and standards of programmes offered". It confirmed that agreed entry requirements had been "disregarded".

The QAA reported that the operation had since been improved and was "on a sounder footing", but the university's relationship with the Israeli regulators remains tense.

The Israeli Council for Higher Education had denied Derby University a licence to operate in Israel and placed it on a provisional licence until improvements to its programme were made.

This week, the Israeli Council for Higher Education said: "The temporary licence of Derby's extension (in Israel) has been renewed for two years until December 31 2002. There are still several conditions of the law that they must observe more strictly. The council expects that Derby will report back full compliance with these conditions by June 30 2001."

Derby said the new licence approval was "good news" and reflects the university's "high level of confidence" in its Israel operation.

Want to blow the whistle? Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him on phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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