A principal accused of steering his former college into “unprofitable non-core activities” has clashed with FE Commissioner Dr David Collins.

Amarjit Basi, who served as principal of New College Nottingham (NCN) for less than two years from September 2011, labelled Dr Collins’ report and the inspection process “flawed”. His comment follows the release of documents relating to the commissioner’s visit in February of this year.

Mr Basi, now principal of Cornwall College, was singled out for criticism in Dr Collins’ report, mostly over what was described as his “expansionist policy” while at the helm of NCN.

The commissioner, who visited NCN in February, said: “During its recent history in each year since 2006/07, the college had delivered an underlying surplus until 2013/14 when it recorded a significant deficit, the magnitude of which was not anticipated by the senior management team and not communicated to governors.

Amarjit Basi
Amarjit Basi. Pic courtesy of Nottingham Post

“There were a number of reasons for this deterioration in the college’s financial position but the key ones were the expansionist policy of the previous principal, which involved diversification into a number of unprofitable non-core activities.”

He added: “The board was too willing to accept the enthusiasm of the previous principal without undertaking an appropriate cost benefit or risk analysis of new projects, with the result that a number of loss making activities drove the college into deficit.”

Mr Basi declined to speak to FE Week about the report, but a spokesperson for Cornwall College confirmed he was “concerned that the report/process is flawed” and said a dialogue had begun with Dr Collins on the matter.

David-Collins-cutout
Dr David Collins

The commissioner’s visit was prompted by a Skills Funding Agency (SFA) notice of concern issued on December 15 last year following a judgment of inadequate financial health based on the college’s 2013/14 forecast and expected outturn.

The notice came after the college, which has a current SFA allocation of £16.3m, was warned by Ofsted it required improvement following inspections in both January 2013 and May last year.

According to Dr Collins’s report, the college has delivered a “significant operating deficit subsequent to the closure of the Nottingham Motor Company, withdrawal from overseas investment, increased partnership activity and additional staff costs”.

Although the report did not go into detail on finances, the Nottingham Post has reported that the college, which has “fully accepted” the commissioner’s findings, had run up a deficit of £2.4m, having also had to secure a rescue package from the government and Nottingham City Council to help it complete a £12m new campus.

Dawn Whitemore, NCN principal, said the college had made “significant progress” against Dr Collins’s recommendations and was “on track to meet our financial target, which will see us achieve a breakeven position by the end of this academic year as planned”.

She added: “One of his key recommendations was for the college to take part in an area review of FE provision in Nottingham, alongside Central College Nottingham, which is ongoing.”

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills declined to comment.

 



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7 Comments

  1. Rob Peutrell (Nottm UCU)

    There is no detail here why Mr Basi feels that the report in NCN is flawed. The report is very measured in tone, but he may be right. One has to wonder: the FE Commissioner is encouraging college mergers and this is one outcome of the NCN intervention. However, what is also clear is that if NCN was mismanaged under Mr Basi’s ‘watch’, no individuals seem to have been called to account for the decisions made or the consequences of these decisions. This includes members of the NCN Corporation and Mr Basi’s colleagues on the executive team. One would have anticipated a resignation. It seems very strange given the amounts of public money involved. For this reason, Nottingham UCU is considering calling for a public enquiry into the events at NCN. We anticipate Mr Basi welcoming this call because currently his professional competence and judgement are being questioned by a report he regards as flawed.

    • disillusioned

      I feel that the approach being taken by the UCU in Nottingham to call for a public inquiry is totally correct. Lets get to the bottom of what happened so that the truth of the matter can be established. Mr Basi should be stopped by the SFA from imposing this model on his new employer until the credibility of this model can be established. My feeling is that its flawed and should be consigned to history. Lets hope the UCU at Cornwall College feel able to take a similar stand.

  2. It seems college leaders and boards are in a no win position whatever they do. It’s easy to criticise something that has happened in the past but we must also remember the context in which decisions took place. When colleges have the ‘freedom’ to be in charge of their own destiny leaders will either dream big or play very safe. Neither of these approaches are guaranteed to achieve the outcomes expected of a wide range of stakeholders. If we expect colleges to be run as businesses we have to accept that leaders will take risks and make investments. If we don’t want them to run as businesses we should fund them enough to develop new ideas. What we must not do is starve and scare them so they remain stuck in the past or disappear.

    • disillusioned

      The problem here is that we expect a College to be run as a business but fail to accept that College senior managers are educationalists not business men. Governors tend to come from business backgrounds but if the actions of CEOs are hidden from them they are not able to provide an effective steer

  3. Anonymous

    It would be great if his current college could be looked at in the press. It is failing and the staff are under enormous pressure. At least two rounds of redundancies in 3 years, computer suites being emptied and ill staff. It looks like a repeat of his expansionist policies there too.