A Scottish Government body has launched an inquiry in the wake of the “jobs for the boys” fiasco at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.
The Scottish Funding Council (SFC) has stepped in following demands from trade unions and has ordered a “Lessons Learned Review” at the institution.
It is understood that the review will assess whether improvements in the governance and staff appointment process need to made across the higher education sector in Scotland.
The move was revealed as new details emerged of the way RGU’s principal Ferdinand von Prondzynski dramatically quit and was controversially replaced last month.
Official documents show that action was taken after RGU’s board heard there was “considerable concern amongst a broad spectrum of university employees” about the handling of a recent internal inquiry into the business link between Professor von Prondzynski and a recently-appointed vice-principal.
The board held a “series of meetings” with staff and managers in the week after the governors agreed not to sanction Prof von Prondzynski for failing to declare that he and vice-principal Gordon McConnell were co-directors of a firm which owned a £12million castle in Ireland.
After hearing from staff, the board “expressed deep concern regarding the destabilising effect” of the row at a special meeting on July 27, and it was agreed that chairman Mike Fleming should “discuss the matter with the principal as a matter of urgency”.
At the same meeting, the board was “working on the presumption that the principal would be stepping down in the near term”, and agreed that it was “imperative to stabilise the situation” by offering the top job to deputy principal, Professor John Harper.
But the move plunged RGU into a fresh “cronyism” controversy when the University and College Union (UCU) Scotland demanded an inquiry into the board’s failure to follow normal procedures for such a senior appointment, amid claims it demonstrated a “jobs for the boys” attitude.
Now it has emerged that the board convened again on Monday this week – for the fifth time since the Press and Journal revealed the “conflict of interest” claims on May 17 – to discuss a proposal from the SFC, in liaison with the Scottish Government, that a “Lessons Learned Review” be carried out.
Last night, an SFC spokesman said: “The Scottish Funding Council is responsible for endorsing the Good Higher Education Governance code once it has been developed by the University Chairs’ committee.
“Given this role, we consider it appropriate to consider what wider lessons can be learned from situations such as this, and SFC looks forward to working with its key partners to determine future best practice.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The SFC will work with the university and other sector representatives to consider what wider lessons can be learned from this situation.”
Mary Senior, UCU Scotland official, welcomed the move last night.
“It’s good to see the board of governors will be considering what lessons can be learned from recent events,” she said.
“UCU has urged the governors to join other universities in fully implementing the 2016 higher education governance act, by bringing two trade union nominees onto its board as soon as possible.
“This would go some way in restoring the confidence of the staff and students in the university’s senior management and governance arrangements.”
RGU declined to comment last night.