Thursday, 17 December 2009

Times Higher Education writes: In the name of Hefce, go

17th of December

Rebecca Attwood

Chief executive issued ultimatum to London Met governors before mass resignations: leave or risk the institution’s funding. Rebecca Attwood reports

Governors at London Metropolitan University were handed an ultimatum by funding chiefs who threatened to stop financing the institution if they did not resign, Times Higher Education has learnt.

In a joint statement released today, the university and the Higher Education Funding Council for England say that all board members who were in place in the period up to 31 August 2008 are to step down by 31 August 2010.

The action follows a letter from Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce’s chief executive, to Peter Anwyl, chair of the governors, on 14 December. It warns that Sir Alan 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 a series of reports detailing poor governance and management at London Met.

The letter, seen by Times Higher Education, calls for all board members who were part of the audit committee during the period to stand down “immediately”.

Yesterday, London Met’s University and College Union branch issued a statement to its members saying that at a governors’ meeting on 15 December, Mr Anwyl had resigned with effect from the end of March 2010, and that other governors associated with the audit committee would follow suit.

This is confirmed by today’s statement, which says the audit committee will be “renewed” by 1 April 2010.

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 made, 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 scale of the governance, management and operational failures at London Met is unprecedented in higher education in this country in recent years and urgent action needs to be taken,” Sir Alan’s letter says.

Sir Alan adds that he is “disappointed” that the board refused to consider the critical reports into the affair produced by Sir David Melville and Deloitte until 15 December.

He then warns that unless action is taken, he would “ultimately consider whether or not the university should continue to receive Hefce grant funding”.

Sir Alan stresses that Hefce’s main concerns are “the wellbeing of the students and the motivation of the staff”, and says that it is willing to consider a “realistic” bid for money from its Strategic Development Fund, although it has yet to receive such a proposal.

The letter also describes an issue excluded from the joint statement due to its “sensitivity”: “With regard to the senior managers criticised in the reports, I have already 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.”

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, called for the governors’ departure to be sped up.

“Those responsible must go immediately as their continued presence on the board does nothing to lend any credibility to the institution,” she said.

“We need one quick blow from a guillotine, not numerous hacks from a blunt axe.”

University governors resign after false funds claims, The Independent reports

17th of December 2009

By Richard Garner

Governors at the troubled London Metropolitan University have resigned in the wake of its financial troubles, university sources said last night.

The majority of its lay governors will be out of office by the summer, they added. The governors have been under immense pressure to quit following a warning from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), the body responsible for funding universities, that urged them to "consider their position".

This came after it emerged that the university had falsely claimed £36m worth of government funds for students who had not sat their end-of-year assessments – as exclusively revealed in The Independent on 23 November.

The Hefce's comment were widely interpreted as being an indication that it would refuse to continue funding the university if the governors stayed in post – effectively forcing the university to close.

An agreement was drawn up before a governing body meeting on Tuesday night that the chairman, Peter Anwyl, would leave by the end of March.

The rest of the lay members associated with its audit sub-committee – charged with overseeing accounts – would leave by the summer. A new audit committee is expected to be in place by next April.

The agreement, between Sir Alan Langlands, chief executive of the Hefce, and Mr Anwyl had been expected to be published yesterday. Last night a spokeswoman for London Metropolitan University said it hoped to publish it today, "slightly revised". The revisions are likely to be about the timetable of departures.

At the meeting on Tuesday, a statement from staff governor, Kay Dudman, was read out. It said: "It is clear that London Metropolitan University's future and safety is at stake. Hefce has made apparent that there is a clear and immediate risk that funding will be withdrawn unless it is convinced that its financial support of the university with public funds is safeguarded to its satisfaction.

"London Met cannot survive without public funds. The honourable, and indeed the only, course of action is for members of the board who were serving during the period in question to resign and the executive should follow suit."

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said last night: "Those who are responsible for the mess at London Met should go immediately. Delaying the inevitable does absolutely nothing to help the university, staff or students.

"Why burden the new vice-chancellor with people whose inadequacies have been brutally exposed? What has happened at London Met must act as a wake-up call to all universities and their governing bodies."

In a letter to the university, Sir Alan said: "We have been concerned that the university is unable to safeguard public funds.

"Given the criticism of the board and the senior management team, I do not believe confidence can be restored until action is taken to consider the position of board members and senior staff who are criticised in the report and new governance and managements arrangements are put in place."

The incoming vice-chancellor, Professor Malcolm Gillies, joins the university in late January.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Long goodbye at London Met: Times Higher Education reports on the news of the slow departures of London Met's Board of Governors.

16 December 2009

Governors bow to pressure and resign, but final departures won’t occur until summer 2010. Rebecca Attwood reports

The governors of London Metropolitan University have resigned following a period of intense pressure from funding chiefs.

According to London Met’s University and College Union branch, the chair of governors, Peter Anwyl, resigned with effect from the end of March 2010 at a governors’ meeting last night.

The other lay governors associated with the audit sub-committee – which the UCU branch said amounts to virtually all London Met’s lay governors – will follow suit in the summer.

In a statement to its members, the UCU says it assumes that an entirely new audit committee will be in place by April 2010.

The resignations follow a series of reports criticising the governors’ role in inaccurate data returns detailing student dropouts at London Met.

The university reported a non-completion rate of about 3 per cent, while under the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s definition, the actual rate was about 30 per cent.

The inaccuracies mean London Met has been forced to hand back £36.5 million it was overpaid by Hefce between 2005-06 and 2007-08, leaving the university in dire financial straits and hundreds of jobs at risk.

The UCU branch said it understood that a formal announcement on the resignations would be made today. It added that it understood the announcement would include a statement that the new vice-chancellor, Malcolm Gillies, would be investigating members of the executive group who were in post during the relevant period. This could include disciplinary action with the possibility of individual suspensions during the inquiries.

A statement from Kay Dudman, the staff governor, that was read out at the meeting says:

“It is clear that London Metropolitan University’s future and safety is at stake. Hefce has made apparent that there is a clear and immediate risk that funding will be withdrawn unless it is convinced that its financial support of the university with public funds is safeguarded to its satisfaction. It is noted that Hefce itself is not without blame, as cited in the [Sir David] Melville report, in particular for failing to make a written record of meetings.

“London Met cannot survive without public funds. The honourable, and indeed the only, course of action is for the members of the board of governors who were serving during the period in question to resign, and the executive… should follow suit.”

She adds: “Their sacrifice will be for the good of the institution as a whole, and allow London Met the opportunity to flourish once again under the leadership of a new vice-chancellor, a new board of governors and a new executive.”

Students storming the London Metropolitan University Moorgate building, waving a banner saying: Student struggle 1968 -2009

Police tried to stop students entering the University building in Moorgate the 15th of December where students and staff were demanding the mass resignation of Governors and Executives responsible for cheating with student completion rates to the staggering amount of 36 Million pounds. A few students were however lucky enough to get in, seizing the opportunity to wave a banner with the words: "Student struggle 1968 -2009" to the crowds underneath.

Protestors call for governors to quit London Metropolitan University, East London Advertiser reports.

"STUDENTS and staff were calling for governors at London Metropolitan to quit yesterday as it emerged the university could miss out on vital funding if they refuse to step-down.

Protesters gathered outside the university's campus in Moorgate as the board of governors met for the first time since its members were told by The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to "consider their position".
And this came as the acting vice-chancellor Alfred Morris admitted in a leaked e-mail that the university may not receive extra funding unless its board proves its "adequacy" and confidence is restored. Board members were given the warning after an enquiry accused them of claiming funding for thousands of non-existent students at the university which also has campuses in Whitechapel, Aldgate and Holloway.
The University and College Union's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "London Met desperately needs a fresh start and that cannot happen with the current board of governors in place."

Mass Rally urging the Governors and Exec to resign NOW 15th of December, Moorgate

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Pressure mounts on London Met governors to quit, the Guardian reports today.

Staff and students to protest as board meets to discuss damning revelations of funds claimed for non-existent students writes Rachel Williams for the Guardian.

Troubled London Metropolitan University could lose out on badly-needed funding to help with its financial woes if the board of governors does not resign, leaked documents suggest ahead of a crunch meeting today.

Last month the head of Hefce, the body that funds universities in England, wrote to the chairman of governors at London Met in the wake of revelations that it falsely claimed funding for non-existent students, calling for board members to "consider their positions".

Staff and students will protest outside as the board meets to discuss the university's response to a damning inquiry published last week, which found that the institution had misused public money. Sir David Melville, former vice-chancellor of Kent University, warned in his report that senior officials at London Met must take responsibility for a fiasco which saw the university receive tens of millions of pounds in overpayments after submitting inaccurate student data. It has been ordered to pay back £36.5m.

But a leaked email suggests Hefce's assessment of the "adequacy" of the board's response would be critical to the success of a bid for cash and "any requests for further assistance".

The email, from London Met's acting vice-chancellor Alfred Morris to Hefce chief executive Sir Alan Langlands, predates the reports and Langlands' letter to London Met's chairman of governors.

Summarising Langlands' comments, the email said: "It would not be easy to persuade the Hefce board of the case for significant further support, and the restoration of mutual respect and confidence remained an essential preliminary."

The University and College Union (UCU) today said the governors' position had become "completely untenable" and demanded that they stand down.

UCU's general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "London Met desperately needs a fresh start and that cannot happen with the current board of governors in place.

"The position of the board is completely untenable and they will cause greater damage by remaining in post.

"Nobody can have confidence in the university until there has been a proper shake up at the top and those behind the current shambles have gone."

Hefce said Langlands and Peter Anwyl, the chair of the board of governors, had a "purposeful meeting" earlier this month and met again yesterday.

"Both are committed to ensuring the wellbeing of the current students and supporting the continued provision of their education," a spokesman said. "They are equally concerned to ensure that there are governance arrangements in place which sustain confidence in the work of the university."

A London Met spokeswoman said: "The board of governors will be considering the detail of the university's response to the findings of both reports at its next board meeting on December 15.

"We will be preparing a full response to both reports, specifiying the detail and time scales of actions to be taken."

The incoming vice-chancellor, Professor Malcolm Gillies, who joins the university in late January, would be closely involved in the process, she added. "[Gillies] has been clear in his determination that all action must be in accord with a thoughtful, long-term plan that emphasises student learning and staff scholarship, and seeks to restore public confidence in the university."