Stella brings shame on the college sector we all love

19 Sep 2019, 21:59

On Friday Highbury College, to avoid being in contempt of court and having to pay a fine, finally emailed FE Week the corporate card expenses for their principal, Stella Mbubaegbu.

Chief reporter, Billy Camden, analysed over 500 scanned receipts from the last four years and found £150,000 of shocking spending.

The college then defended it all, including: the cocktail fuelled lobster dinner for four at a Michelin Star restaurant in London; the $56 bottle of wine and $50 steak dinner for six in Orlando; the Cadillac and executive taxis; the $528 headphones from an Apple store in Washington; the stays in five star hotels with room service; first class rail and flights and as if in a two fingers up to the rest of us, buying a book called Check The Ego: Operate with a high degree of humility by admitting mistakes and taking responsibility.

They college board has, according to their minutes from the meeting in May, now told Stella she needs to be “more visible within the college”. I think she needs to apologise to the sector she has tarnished, pay back from her own pocket any spend deemed by the FE Commissioner to be inappropriate or lavish. And far from being in the college more, she should then resign, without taking a penny of severance pay.

Speaking at a conference in South Africa in 2017 Stella is reported on twitter at the time (see below) to have been talking about funding challenges at colleges and said “we don’t have any money, now we have to think”.

Over to you Stella…

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  1. Iron pyrites

    Yes it is a disgrace, yes it is shameful behaviour but there is the whiff of witch hunt in the air. It is FE week’s role to expose wrongdoing, but, I would argue, it is not your job to demand a specific course of action that Stella should take. Sometimes things are better left unsaid: your readers are smart enough to know that the honourable thing to do is for her to resign with immediate effect. Your demands for her head on a platter simply make you look vindictive and petty which demeans your excellent work

    • William Wardle

      Absolutely spot-on comment. Issues are always with more than an individual, even though the resolution will be scapegoating.. In the case described, the roles of auditors, corporate boards, remuneration committee etc require investigation. Was she ever given annual performance reviews, for example?

      On balance, I think FE Week has crossed a line into vigilante journalism. One would hope that they…and the FE Commissioner…have learned from recent, tragic examples of demonisation. We are seeing poor journalism and the FE Commissioner needs to be very procedurally correct.

  2. Gavin alaugh

    I’m sure the quote she used at her conference in South Africa was lifted from Winston Churchill. But then again I can’t imagine Winston Churchill putting a dishwasher on an expenses claim.

  3. Driver for hire

    Why was it necessary to stay at the Portsmouth Marriott.? And surely even independent auditors must have challenged the need for a car to take her suitcases to one location when she travelled to another. Try telling the general public that colleges need extra funding after this story.

  4. Ex Employee

    Having worked at Highbury College for a number of years everyone knew what was going on but felt powerless to do anything. The sad reality is the impact. Students went without vital resources they needed and staff went with pay rises. Nick you are right. Stella needs to do the right thing and resign. She was obsessed with staff bringing the college into disrepute but she has done more damage than anyone can imagine.

  5. The principal’s statement on the college website – like her expenses claim in my view – definitely “requires improvement”. Are the governors aware of the huge damage to the reputation of the college. Does the principal care about integrity and transparency? Did the principal think: What impression could my exorbitant expenses give to my students and staff? And is the college still wasting money on Gazelle? Well done Billy Camden for fighting obstruction and delaying tactics to unearth this truly shameful episode. A dogs dinner.

  6. Richard Banks

    What is also called into question by all this is the role of the governors. Too many of these are self-serving do-gooders, with virtually no understanding of business, economics, organisational psychology, leadership, etc. That such amateurs are supposed to hold senior postholders to account is laughable. Why didn’t the governors spot any of this, and do something about it? As in business, there should be a single board, comprising the CEO/principal, the necessary directors, a chair, and an appropriate number of NEDs, properly assessed for their knowledge and experience. The amateurism of the sector bedevils it.