Now senior staff face action at London Met

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The Independent Online

A day after board governors resigned at London Metropolitan University over a £36m student funding scam, senior staff have learnt that they face the threat of suspension and disciplinary action.

London Met claimed £36 million worth of government finance for students who failed to sit their end-of-year assessments. Investigations by Deloitte and Sir David Melville, former vice-chancellor of Middlesex and Kent universities, blamed governors and senior staff for what had happened.

Two days ago the university was threatened with losing its funding unless governors resigned immediately, a letter seen by The Independent shows. Sent before yesterday’s crunch governors’ meeting, by the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce), Sir Alan Langlands, it left little room for manoeuvre.

Sir Alan wrote to them that “the scale of the governance, management and operational failures... is unprecedented in higher education in this country”.

His letter warned: “If I cannot be assured that the Board is responding promptly and appropriately to the strong evidence of poor governance and management... I will be required to press for urgent action and review the conditions of the grant which apply to the university – and ultimately to consider whether or not the university should continue to receive Hefce grant funding in the present way.”

Sir Alan’s letter also outlined an agreement between Hefce and the university that the new board of governors should rule on whether disciplinary action should be taken against senior staff for their conduct.

“This should include consideration of suspension whilst an investigation is under way and appropriate disciplinary action if the results of the investigation so require.”

As expected, the university finally published a joint statement with Hefce yesterday over its future – more than 36 hours after the governing body meeting had concluded. It confirmed that governing body chairman, Peter Anwyl, director of International Students House, would be quitting by next March.

In addition, all governors who were members of the board during the time when the money was falsely claimed will go by August.

The board, which has 15 members, contains several high flyers within the City of London Corporation – including Sir Michael Snyder, a senior partner of the accountancy firm Kingston Smith, and Jeremy Mayhew, a Common Councilman of the City of London and a former director of new media at BBC Worldwide.

One of those who will stay is Tony Millns, chief executive of English UK Ltd, who was only appointed this September and therefore not a party to any of the discussions during the period under review.

All members of the governing body agreed not to make any comment yesterday after the publication of the joint statement.

Its publication, though, sparked criticism from the lecturers’ union, the University and College Union, which criticised the board for delaying the departures until next year.

It said the departures should have been coupled with the arrival of a new vice-chancellor, Malcolm Gillies, in January to give the university “the perfect opportunity for a fresh start”.

“It is quite clear that there is no credible way that those responsible for the failings can remain in post and these delays are just doing further harm to the institution,” said Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary.

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

London Metropolitan University came into being as a result of a merger between the University of North London (the former north London Polytechnic) and London Guildhall University.