Wednesday, 25 November 2015

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Cumbria university appoints acting vice-chancellor

Directors of the troubled University of Cumbria announced today the appointment of a new interim vice-chancellor following Wednesday’s shock departure of Professor Peter McCaffery.

Peter Ballard photo
The Venerable Peter Ballard

Related: Cumbria university chiefs in talks over vice-chancellor stand-in

Professor Graham Upton, an academic with an international reputation, will start work on Monday.

Prof Upton was vice-chancellor at Oxford Brookes University for 10 years before he retired in August 2007.

He is now a highly-respected consultant and most recently served as an adviser on higher education to the ministry of education in Brunei.

Raised in Australia, Prof Upton has also held senior positions at universities in Birmingham and Wales.

The Venerable Peter Ballard, chairman of the Cumbria University’s board of directors, said: “Applications to our university remain buoyant and our staff and students continue to excel in their academic endeavours. Professor Upton joins the senior team to build on this important work.

“While the University of Cumbria still has challenges to meet in a difficult economic environment, we are confident that under the leadership of Professor Upton and with the support of the whole community the university will progress and flourish.”

Directors have moved quickly to appoint an interim to provide stability at the top as the university tackles a £30 million deficit.

This morning Mr Ballard said it would take a long time to find a permanent replacement.

He said: “It is likely that we won’t find a permanent replacement before the end of the year. It is not something that can be rushed.”

As Prof Upton prepares to step in, the chairman says it is “business as usual” but local MPs and unions this week said Prof McCaffery’s departure could threaten to raise fresh fears for the future.

Prof McCaffery’s departure was by mutual agreement and a compromise deal was reached between the two parties, the chairman said.

Mr Ballard believes the fledgling university offers a new vice-chancellor the chance to make their mark.

Prof McCaffery had been in charge for less than a year, having succeeded the university’s first vice-chancellor, Professor Christopher Carr, last July.

Prof McCaffery’s departure comes after he looked to lead the new university out of the financial crisis that has seen it amass debts of £30m since opening in August 2007. Around 300 jobs are being axed, courses have been cut, plans for a £70m campus in Carlisle have been shelved and the Ambleside campus is being mothballed.

The future of the Newton Rigg campus is also under review as £10m worth of savings must be made by July.

Mr Ballard said: “We’re still on track with everything. Peter’s done a great job. It was a genuine parting of the ways. He has set us on the road to deliver the savings as planned this year.

“The new business plan is going ahead, it has been published, and it is business as usual.”

He added: “This is a fantastic challenge for someone who wants to work in this part of the world and with an emerging university and who wants to make their mark on its future.”

New Carlisle MP John Stevenson, who met Prof McCaffery during his election campaign with the now universities minister David Willetts, said: “I’m very surprised at his departure. I don’t know the reasons but I hope it doesn’t destabilise the situation and cause uncertainty to staff, students and the wider community.

“My concern is that this could destabilise an already sensitive situation. Everyone is aware of the financial difficulties and I understand that these are being addressed.

“It is vital we have a financially stable university but without a doubt the university will have my support and, I’m sure, the support of my colleagues in Cumbria.”

He added: “The most important thing now is consideration is given for the future and that it is a success for both Carlisle and Cumbria. I would want early discussions with the chairman and the interim vice-chancellor to discuss this.

“We need to know what has gone on and what the future direction of the university is.”

Unions raised concerns this week that Prof McCaffery’s departure now left a lack of “depth of experience” among senior management.


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