23. November 2009
By Judy Friedberg,
The University and College Union (UCU) says the position of governors at London Metropolitan University has become untenable, following a call for the entire governing body to resign in the wake of revelations that the university falsely claimed funding for thousands of non-existent students.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has written to the chairman of governors, instructing all members of the governing body and senior staff to "consider their position", according to a report in today's Independent.
The university failed to keep track of students or ensure they sat exams, damning reports by Sir David Melville, former vice-chancellor of Kent and Middlesex universities, found. It continued to claim government funding based on artificially low drop-out rates. London Met has been ordered to repay £36m worth of funding.
Hefce itself came in for criticism over the London Met fiasco in August and was forced to tighten its audit procedures.
Sir Alan Langlands, Hefce's chief executive, wrote to the chair of governors, Peter Anwyl, on Friday, giving them six days to consider their position.
The letter says: "The reports make it very difficult for Hefce to have confidence in the governance of the university. Given the criticism of the board and the senior management team, I do not believe that confidence can be restored until action is taken to consider the position of the board and senior staff who are criticised …"
London Met has the second highest percentage of students from low-income backgrounds – 55% of the student population, according to the Higher Education Statistics Authority. It's first year drop-out rate is 16.6%, according to latest figures.
Melville's report, while criticising former vice-chancellor Brian Roper who resigned earlier this year, made it clear that the problems were endemic. He had received "over 50 submissions" from acadmic and support staff, attesting to "problems of student data quality over many years". These provided "many detailed examples of the difficulty of removing students from the record whom they know to have left or who never ever appeared".
UCU, which represents lecturers, said that swift action was needed if the university was to stand any chance of getting through the current crisis.
Its general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "The Melville report, coupled with the Hefce letter, makes the position of many of the board of governors untenable.
"Those who failed to hold the autocratic management to account, in particular the chair of governors, the chair of the audit committee and the executive managers who were part of the discredited vice-chancellor's inner circle, are heavily criticised in the report, which rightly recommends new leadership.
"Nobody will have confidence in the university until there has been a proper shake-up at the top. We have maintained from the beginning of this crisis that there needed to be a full independent inquiry.
"Although the report took longer than we would have liked, the most important thing now is that decisive action is taken with regards to its findings and recommendations."