Whistleblowers: Staff despair over late pay and lack of library

June 14, 2002

Staff at Nottingham Trent University's private partner college, the European School of Economics, have resorted to extreme measures in order to get paid. At the London campus of the ESE, staff have been withholding students' marks, and in one case hiring a debt collector, in a bid to get their salaries.

Staff have also been forced to teach students - who pay thousands of pounds a year in private fees - without even basic library and computing facilities, according to documents obtained by The THES .

The Italian-based college offers degree programmes from Grosvenor Place in London and from campuses across the world, all validated by Nottingham Trent. Its dean, Stefano D'Anna, boasts that he is employing "internationally renowned academic staff" to prepare a "new breed of men" (sic) to lead the future world of business and politics. But it seems these future world leaders are being taught by a demoralised staff.

Academic directors Alex Ruxton and Sue Coates both left suddenly earlier this year. ESE said Dr Coates was dismissed, but she wrote to Nottingham Trent deputy vice-chancellor Keith Short saying that she could "no longer continue" and listed a catalogue of complaints.

She said that "staff were being controlled by non-payment" and "lives were being devastated", and attached a list of 23 lecturing staff for 2001 who she said had all suffered payment problems. Nine of them had resigned in protest. The list included Nick Bateson, a psychology lecturer who hired a debt-collecting firm. Last November, eight lecturers wrote to an ESE director about their "deep dissatisfaction" over late payments, warning that "staff have been unable to meet personal financial commitments".

Elizabeth Mitchell, ESE international academic dean, told The THES that she accepted that there had been payment problems but insisted that "all staff have always been paid".

Dr Mitchell said that the teaching budget was "too high". She said the school had rationalised classes and put staff on fixed monthly salaries to solve the problem.

But the failure to pay staff was not the only problem. A January 2002 report from computing manager Baris Delan warned: "The state of our computing resources needs to be urgently reviewed. The system has been neglected and is not set up in a professional or stable manner. In its current state it will break down on a regular basis." He said: "The network is wired in a dangerous way and I don't know if we have licences for all the software that we use. We could risk a very heavy fine from companies such as Microsoft."

Dr Mitchell admitted that ESE had experienced "technical difficulties several times" relating to compatibility between equipment used by students and staff. "Technology changes and we need to enhance the facilities but we are making investments," she said. She also admitted that students "download software for which we may not have a licence", but said the problem was common to all colleges and was regularly monitored.

Dr Coates warned Nottingham Trent of ESE's "refusal to provide a basic library". In September 2001, manager Steve Berridge reported: "At the moment we are looking at beginning our busiest academic year (with 120 students) to date. Resources in the library are limited - the library has no tables to sit at and no way for students to borrow the few books we have."

Dr Mitchell admitted that ESE "does not have a huge book library", but she said the concerns about the library were "ridiculous". She said ESE students used annual reports and journals, were given hand-outs by teachers and had access to information online. "Furthermore, our students come from affluent families and purchase at least two books for each subject."

Dr Mitchell said that many of the criticisms were wrong, had been "magnified" or were taken "out of context". "I feel that Nottingham Trent is happy with the standards of teaching at ESE. We are improving every day. ESE is a beautiful institution, the curriculum is extremely modern and relevant to the needs of future entrepreneurs. We must do more, do better - and we will."

A spokeswoman for Nottingham Trent said: "We have raised all relevant matters with ESE and have been assured that they are being addressed appropriately."

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