The vice-chancellor of De Montfort University, who resigned earlier this year in advance of an investigation that has since identified “significant and systemic” failings in governance, was awarded £270,000 on his departure, it has been confirmed.
Dominic Shellard left his £350,000-a-year post in February, just before the universities regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), launched a formal investigation into the Leicester institution.
Revealing its decision on Monday, the OfS said: “We found weaknesses and failings in the university’s management and governance arrangements which were significant and systemic.
“Given the university’s cooperation with the investigation, the action it has already taken to address our concerns and its clear plan for future actions, we have not made any formal findings on this occasion.”
It added: “We have now closed our investigation. We will continue to monitor the university’s progress to deliver the commitments in its action plan.”
De Montfort later confirmed the £270,000 payment to Shellard, 53, but refused to comment further.
However, in a statement posted on the university’s website, it acknowledged its governance had been “inadequate” and “the governing body did not provide sufficient and robust oversight of the university’s leadership, in particular the vice-chancellor”.
An email to staff from the the interim vice-chancellor, Andy Collop, seen by the Guardian, confirmed the payment to Shellard.
It said: “There have been a number of inquiries about the remuneration of the former vice-chancellor. Given the prevailing circumstances, public interest and desire for increased transparency, we believe it is important that we make this information known well in advance of publication in our annual accounts in December.
“The board of governors approved a payment in line with the former vice-chancellor’s contractual entitlement, which stipulated a notice period of nine months. This equates to a payment of £270,000.”
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents university workers, expressed astonishment at the payment.
“It is astounding that despite serious failures of leadership and governance by Professor Shellard, De Montfort University’s governors still saw fit to award him a whopping £270,000 after his departure,” said the union’s acting general secretary, Paul Cottrell.
“UCU has repeatedly warned that a lack of accountability on senior pay and perks is damaging confidence in our universities. Institutions cannot continue to plead poverty on staff pay while rewarding their leaders so handsomely and with so little scrutiny.”
The OfS published a 39-point action plan for the university following its investigation, which required the departure of a number of governors related to the investigation, a revised and more robust recruitment process for future governors and a more rigorous process to identify conflicts of interest.
De Montfort said it had agreed a number of key areas where the university’s governance required improvement, including oversight of international travel by members of the governing body, management of whistleblowing allegations and the independence and rigour of remuneration decisions.
A number of De Montfort’s governors have already left and been replaced. “This is the start of a process designed to transform the culture and ethos of the university to one of greater openness, transparency and genuine engagement,” the university said.
Susan Lapworth, the director of competition and the register at the OfS, said: “It is in the interests of students and taxpayers that universities and colleges are well-run and the OfS will use the full range of our enforcement powers where necessary to investigate and resolve similar compliance concerns in other universities and other higher education providers.”
Nick Hillman, the director of the Higher Education Policy Institute thinktank, said: “It is good that this issue has now been gripped and that the university has admitted its shortcomings on governance.
“It would be unfair if, in this case, the affair was allowed to damage the reputation of De Montfort University which in general delivers a great education to its many students.”