Highbury College principal to retire next summer

A principal at the centre of an expenses scandal announced her retirement today after 18 years at the helm.

Stella Mbubaegbu will leave her position at Highbury College in the summer next year. 

This follows accusations of the lavish spending of college funds, revealed by FE Week in September.

In a statement released on Highbury College’s website Stella Mbubaegbu CBE said: “In the summer of 2019, I informed my Board of Governors of my intention to retire from my post in a year’s time (end of July 2020).

“I deeply care about and am extremely proud of Highbury College. It has been an immense joy and privilege to serve the College, its diverse communities and the wider FE sector over the past two decades. 

“I am proud of my contributions to Highbury, steering the College through the turbulent times that FE has seen over the past 8 years with funding cuts and policy changes, positioning Highbury on the global education map, the transformation of the College estate, the uncompromising approach to educational and social inclusion and our Ofsted outstanding for 7 years.

“The Board will be initiating the search for my successor in the coming weeks, with my full support, and I will focus on continuing to lead this amazing College and its amazing staff and students with passion and commitment.”

She was awarded a CBE in the 2008 New Year Honours for services to further education.

Ministers ordered the FE Commissioner to investigate the principal’s “deeply concerning” corporate credit card use in September after £150,000 was spent in just four years.

More than 500 receipts obtained by FE Week showed college funds were spent on first class flights, five-star hotels, travel in luxury cars and a £350 bill – including a £45 lobster and nearly £100 on cocktails – at a Michelin star restaurant.

These expenses were exposed following a year-long freedom of information battle with the college, which is based in Portsmouth.

At the time Department for Education minister Lord Theodore Agnew, who oversees the FE Commissioner, said he and education secretary Gavin Williamson were “deeply concerned by these revelations” and he had “already asked the FE Commissioner to urgently look into this matter.”

“School and college leaders must treat taxpayers’ money with the utmost care and in a way that benefits their students. Where this does not happen we take the strongest possible action,” Lord Agnew added.

Mrs Mbubaegbu’s expenditure took place over a period of redundancies at the college, which axed its sixth form two months ago, amid deteriorating finances. The last time staff got a pay rise was in January 2013.

Its Ofsted grade also dropped from ‘outstanding’ to ‘requires improvement.’

Minutes published from a board meeting in May show international and first class travel have been restricted and lunch and alcoholic drink claims have been banned.

A £2,000 limit was also been placed on the principal’s corporate card although the college would not say whether this was a monthly or annual limit.

Yesterday FE Week revealed cladding at a college’s halls of residence for students under the age of 18, the type used on the Grenfell Tower, failed a safety test several months ago. 

The college also previously called in lawyers to recover a long-running £1.4 million debt held up in Nigeria, following a technical education project in the country.