The University of East London’s former vice-chancellor set up an inquiry into its failed overseas ventures as his final act before stepping down on health grounds, and the institution later shredded copies of letters he sent about his resignation.
Papers obtained by Times Higher Education under the Freedom of Information Act cast more light on Patrick McGhee’s departure from UEL in January.
Shortly after he left, two overseas ventures established during his reign came to a premature end.
UEL shut down its Cyprus campus, which had a projected cost of £1.3 million, after recruiting just 17 students in six months. It also closed the failed University of East London Global Examinations Board after just over a year of operation, making a forecast loss of £600,000.
Minutes from a meeting of UEL’s governors on 22 January note that Professor McGhee had exchanged letters about his plan to resign with Mark Stephens, chair of governors at the university and a lawyer who at one time represented WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Mr Stephens shared the letters with the governors at the meeting.
“Officers would collect the copies of the letters following the meeting and would ensure their confidential destruction,” the minutes state.
A secretary’s note in the minutes adds: “Copies of the letters were collected after the meeting and shredded.”
A UEL spokeswoman said: “In keeping with the Data Protection Act, we ensured that the correspondence containing sensitive personal information was properly protected from public disclosure and dealt with in a suitably secure way.”
Mr Stephens still has the original letters, she added.
According to the minutes, Mr Stephens told the governors that Professor McGhee had decided to resign “on health grounds” and went on to praise his record.
He added that “one of the last things the vice-chancellor had done was to commission an investigation of some aspects of our international activity”.
The investigation, covering the failure of the Cyprus campus and the examinations company, was led by Sir David Melville, former vice- chancellor of Kent and Middlesex universities and current chair of Pearson Education.
UEL has now received the Melville report but has refused an FoI request from THE to release it.
The institution said that releasing the report would “damage a range of commercial interests”, would breach data protection rules as it “contains extensive personal data”, and “would be likely to have a prejudicial effect on the conduct of public affairs”.
Meanwhile, THE can reveal that Adrienne Clarke, director of UEL’s international office, has left the institution on voluntary terms and Selena Bolingbroke, pro vice-chancellor for strategic planning and external development, is set to leave for another institution next month.
Their exits continue a stream of senior departures at UEL after two pro vice-chancellors resigned along with Professor McGhee over the Christmas and New Year period.