Examination of Witnesses (Questions 120-138)|
23 JUNE 2004
Q120 Mr Turner: Of the HEFCE board?
Sir Howard Newby: Of HEFCE with
our other partners at the time, by which I mean the other funding
councils and the Standing Committee of Principals. We also consulted
Universities UK on that.
Q121 Mr Turner: There was a shadow board
in December 2000 and the holding company was set up subsequently.
Who appointed the shadow board?
Sir Howard Newby: There was a
series of interim arrangements put in place to get the whole thing
moving and, essentially, we (HEFCE) appointed the interim management
committee, but none of those who were in that group, from memory,
subsequently became members of either board. Chairman, if I may,
I now have the list in front of me. If you would like me to see
whether my estimates of the size of these two boards was correct
or not? On the holding company there were 12 members of the board,
so my initial estimate was reasonably correct, and on the Opco
board there were 10 members.
Q122 Mr Turner: How often did you review
the operation of the holding company board?
Sir Howard Newby: The holding
company board, as a condition of grant, was obliged to report
to the HEFCE board annually, but we received reports from the
holding company more frequently than thaton average they
were every six months.
Q123 Chairman: But that never included
the bonus system?
Sir Howard Newby: No. I have to
say, the first I was aware of the existence of that system was
when the Opco board resigned following my board's decision.
Q124 Mr Turner: You insisted, you said,
as a condition of grant (presumably, through the holding company
board) that best practice be complied with.
Sir Howard Newby: In terms of
company governance, yes.
Q125 Mr Turner: Do you think it was complied
Sir Howard Newby: The governance
structure I would defend. I think it was best practice because
what we are talking about is the difference between the structure
and the substance of decisions that were made.
Q126 Mr Turner: Who was responsible for
the remuneration of the chairman of Opco?
Sir Howard Newby: That was the
responsibility of the remuneration committee of Opco.
Q127 Mr Turner: Who was on the remuneration
committee of Opco?
Sir Howard Newby: I think, Chairman,
we would have to send you a note on that. They were, essentially,
the non-executive directors, as I understand it. We can give you
the information, rather than speculate.
Q128 Mr Turner: Would you have expected
that the Secretary of State, on hearing the advice that you gave
him in the spring of 2000, in particular, would have sought other
advice from officials?
Sir Howard Newby: I would have
expected that, yes, and I am pretty sure he must have done.
Mr Turner: You, Chairman, described the
bonuses as a major scandal.
Chairman: I said "scandalous".
Q129 Mr Turner: Scandalous. Where do
you think, Sir Howard or Mr Young, the biggest failure lies in
this, either the process or the decision making associated with
Sir Howard Newby: With the company
or with the bonus scheme?
Q130 Mr Turner: With the whole story,
ending up with today.
Sir Howard Newby: My personal
view is that it is really a marketing failure, and that the markets
were not identified and focused upon with sufficient clarity.
I think, while the technology platform slipped in terms of the
timetable, the slippage was not sufficient to threaten the integrity
of the company. We were advised and we are advised now, that the
technology platform is an advance on previous platforms but, as
we know, in the end, only 900 rather than 5,000-6,000 students
registered to use it and I would say that this is a failure of
marketing and selling.
Q131 Mr Turner: Mr Young is nodding.
Mr Young: I would have started
in exactly the same way and would say, finally, that the other
piece of the jigsaw, which is in the event the non-availability
of private sector finance, is more of what I believe is called
an exogenous factor, perhaps.
Chairman: We do have one more topic to
cover, so if you could have a last bite.
Q132 Mr Turner: My last question is do
you know of any other e-learning projectsof those that
were mentioned in the Greenwich speech or others that may have
happened elsewherethat have failed because of a lack of
Sir Howard Newby: Yes, a number
Q133 Mr Turner: Those are?
Sir Howard Newby: The one that
I think has probably the highest profile would be Fathom, which
was the venture set up by the University of Chicago and a number
of American universities with the London School of Economics.
That closed down again, because of a lack of student numbers.
The Western Governors' University, as it was called, in the United
States, which is the consortium of public universities in the
Western United States, is also no longer operating for somewhat
similar reasons. And there are others. Of those that were mentioned
in the Greenwich speech those two certainly have struggled because
of a lack of student demand, in the end.
Q134 Chairman: As you have put your finger
on the failure to market the product or to know about the market
as being central, it is quite interesting to see that Nigel Bannister
was director of marketing. Did he get a bonus?
Sir Howard Newby: I do not know.
We can, again, let you have that information.
Q135 Chairman: Could you find out?
Sir Howard Newby: I am advised,
Chairman, that he did and it was 3% only.
Chairman: I now want to switch, very
briefly, to the future of e-learning because this Committee is
minded to look at e-learning. As I said earlier, we would not
want this experience to cast a shadow over a very important area
of development in education generally.
Q136 Jonathan Shaw: Whatever, I think,
the lessons drawn from the main topic today, as the Chairman said,
we want to see e-learning continue in this country. What lessons
have been learned? Tell us about the future, Sir Howard.
Sir Howard Newby: The first lesson
I would learn is that the development of e-learning needs to be
learner-centred rather than technology driven. We need to know
a lot more about the needs of learners and, if I may get a little
bit technical here, the form of pedagogy that e-learning involves,
which, as we can now begin to see, is quite different to that
of more conventional "chalk-and-talk". I have to say,
one of the elements of value we have extracted from this unfortunate
affair is the research component, which of course still survives,
where we now know a lot more as a result of the investment we
put in about, if you like, what students are looking for and the
kind of form of teaching and learning which we need to present
to them through this technology. I say that rather than starting
off, if you like, with a technology driven solution, where you
start off with a piece of technology and then, based on the view
that we know what the student ought to want and if the student
does not want it in that form that is the student's problem and
not oursI do not think we could possibly go down that route
again. Secondly, I think it really follows on from that, as I
said earlier, we now knowperhaps more than anybody did
at the time, in fairnessthat the future of e-learning lies
in what is called "blended" learning; of allying e-learning
materials (courseware, in the jargon) to more conventional forms
of learning. As I said before, and I think I said Chairman, to
this Committee before, there is more to being a student than sitting
in front of a computer screen. I think that is another important
lesson. So the way forward would be to encourage, facilitate and
invest in universities which are developing this blend of courseware
allied to their existing materials. That, therefore, puts individual
universities or, if you wish, small groups of universities at
the forefront of this, rather than having a single e-University
attempting to develop, market and sell on behalf of all of the
sector. I think that is the third lesson we would learn.
Q137 Jonathan Shaw: A privileged view?
Sir Howard Newby: We still would
wish to see e-learning, in the form I have described it, as being
part of the warp and weft of the entire university sector. In
other words, we would wish to see all higher education institutions
pushing forward high quality, blended forms of learning, making
use of the new technology but not being dominated by the new technology.
Q138 Jonathan Shaw: What is going to
happen to the existing 900 students?
Sir Howard Newby: Of the 900 students
that were present using the platform in September, there are now,
on the latest estimate we have, 145 still registered on courses
which have not yet concluded. We hope that virtually all of them
will have completed their courses or their courseware will be
reversioned to another platform to make sure that their interests
are catered for before the final wind-down of the e-University
which we would anticipate being at the end of July. There may
be a very small numberand I am talking of tens, no more
than thatof clusters of students on particular courses
at particular universities which are totally dependent on the
e-University platform. Between now and then, weand I have
to pay tribute to the remaining staff at the e-Universityare
working very, very, hard indeed to ensure that their interests
are properly protected. However, in the end, I would anticipate
the number of students who are most at risk is probably no more
than 20 or 30.
Chairman: That moves us seamlessly on
to the last thing we want to talk about, which is rather different,
but how that links to international student demand.
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