The new University of Peterborough ‘remains on track’ according to project leaders despite a shock report which reveals divisions behind the scenes.
Poor leadership, a lack of trust and major disagreements are all conclusions in a new report which recommended delaying the project, stating: “There is no business case which all partners are able to agree.”
However, leader of Peterborough City Council Cllr John Holdich has insisted that the fully-fledged university remains on schedule to open in 2022, and that the problems published in the report have now been resolved.
The report was published late last year by HM Treasury and the Local Government Association but has only now been made public.
The council leader said: “The report was commissioned by myself and the combined authority because we felt things were not going the way we want them.
“It’s public money and we need to be able to justify it.
“The report came out in November, and since then the governance has been improved and everything has been addressed.”
The fully-fledged university is due to eventually host 12,500 students with a new campus on the Embankment.
The key stakeholders driving the project are the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Peterborough City Council and University Centre Peterborough (UCP) - which is jointly run by Peterborough Regional College (PRC) and Anglia Ruskin University.
Revelations in the report include:
. No leadership of the university project, very poor communication, a lack of trust and conflicting views, all of which are hampering progression
. A substantial turnover of key staff in leadership roles with a number of important management roles being filled by interim staff
. Confusion as to why a business case produced by PRC for the new university 12 months ago was not accepted by the combined authority
. Disagreement over what the university’s curriculum should be
. Little reporting of activities carried out
. No clear sign that the project will be completed within budget
. Large amounts of documents not being shared among all stakeholders (with lack of trust a potential issue).
UCP is currently seeking degree awarding powers so it can evolve to become the new University of Peterborough.
The report recommended that UCP defer this process for six to nine months while it puts together a business case.
However, Cllr Holdich said he believed the bid for degree awarding powers has now been submitted, with an answer expected in the summer.
He also stated that despite disagreement over the university’s curriculum, there is now consensus on creating a technical university teaching subjects such as engineering, agri-tech and computers.
Asked what had caused the problems behind the scenes, Cllr Holdich replied: “Once the board of Peterborough Regional College were made aware of the situation things improved considerably.”
Any delays in the new fully-fledged university would be seized upon by opponents of the combined authority which has already committed millions of pounds towards the project.
The mayoral authority was created as part of a devolution deal for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. City councillors in Peterborough were persuaded to vote for it on the promise that it would deliver the university the city craved.
A combined authority spokesman said: “At the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority’s Skills Committee meeting on the 6th of February, the combined authority reaffirmed its commitment to the delivery of a university for Peterborough.
“The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority’s Skills Committee Review and Evaluation paper for the University of Peterborough reports the findings of the Gateway Review. The review was carried out by Local Partnerships as part of a quality assurance process for the sign-off of the £9.7 million investment into this project.
“The review was undertaken in order to ensure the success of the project and resulted in the creation of a clear set of actions in order achieve this. The review highlighted the partners’ determination to deliver the project.
“An action plan has been drawn up to implement the review’s recommendations. All partners are committed to working together in order to deliver the University of Peterborough.”
A UCP spokesperson said it was working closely with all partners and stakeholders to address the recommendations in the report and had formed a shadow higher education council which is chaired by Professor Sir Les Ebdon, who extensive experience in the university and higher education sector.
It also said that it was forming a new Employer and Community Consultative Group to ensure the needs of business and employers are addressed.
The spokesperson added: “The Shadow HE Council is committed to ensuring that UCP and the subsequent University of Peterborough is focused on developing ‘career ready’ graduates who are able to apply their knowledge and skills to work.
“UCP believe this is fundamental to the definition and ethos of a technical university which must also embrace and promote digital innovation.
“UCP intend to submit an application for new degree awarding powers to achieve probationary powers to the newly formed Office for Students (OfS) in March 2019. This is being done without any delays to the project with a timeframe for the award to be determined by the OfS and Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
“In the past six months all of the current provision at University Centre Peterborough offered in partnership with Anglia Ruskin University has been successfully revalidated for September 2019. Due to this, University Centre Peterborough are confident that these positive steps will ensure a successful degree awarding powers application with the OfS.
“UCP remain committed to improving communication across partners and are using recently released reports such as the Evidenced Based Skills report produced by Hatch Regeneris in 2018 for the Combined Authority to develop the curriculum and identity of the institution.
“A portfolio of new courses will be developed and promoted, which will enable the creation of an independent university for Peterborough and Fenland, which will satisfy the current and future needs of students, schools and employers.”