University of Buckingham Fined £37K For Filing 2019 Accounts Two Years Late

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The UK’s oldest private university has been fined by the English sector regulator for filing its 2019 accounts more than two years late.

Times Higher Education reports that the University of Buckingham has been ordered to pay £37,231 – 0.1 percent of its qualifying income – for breaching a condition of its registration with the Office for Students.

The regulator said the deadline for filing the 2019 accounts had been the end of May 2020, and that three extensions had been granted “for various reasons, including complexities the provider reported in completing the external audit…and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic”. But when the institution missed its final deadline, set for the end of January 2021, the OfS decided that Buckingham was breaching the conditions of its registration.

The 2019 accounts, when they were finally published in June this year, revealed that auditors had said there was “material uncertainty” over the institution’s ability to keep operating and a deficit of £17.5 million for the year.

Buckingham’s taking on a lease on the former Manchester Metropolitan University campus in Crewe – creating a health science campus offering biomedical and podiatry degrees in partnership with an Indian healthcare provider – was a key factor in financial problems.

At the time a Buckingham spokeswoman insisted that the university was now “in a very sound financial position” and that the issues flagged in the accounts were “historical”, but the institution is yet to file its accounts for 2020 or 2021.

In a report, the OfS says that accounts “contain independently verified information about a provider’s financial position, which is an important element of the OfS’ scrutiny of a provider’s financial viability and sustainability”.

“This information can highlight weaknesses in a provider’s financial position and prompt the OfS to investigate further and take steps to protect students’ interests where necessary and appropriate,” the report says. “Where this information is not provided promptly, the OfS’s ability to anticipate financial risks and to act swiftly to protect students’ interests is adversely affected.

“We consider this to be a significant regulatory risk given the potential impact on students and the sector in the event of the financial failure of a provider.”

However, the OfS notes that there was no evidence that Buckingham had benefited financially from its breach of regulations or that “the breach was deliberate or reckless or that the provider had concealed issues”.

The fine comes after a turbulent time for Buckingham, which saw vice-chancellor Sir Anthony Seldon step down in 2020 at the end of his five-year term, citing “numbers and finance” as a “24/7 anxiety”.

Sir Anthony was succeeded by James Tooley, a former professor of education policy at Newcastle University. But the institution was rocked earlier this year by the resignation of Mark Rawlinson, a former chair of UK investment banking at Morgan Stanley, as chair of its governing council.

Mr. Rawlinson said he had lost confidence in Professor Tooley’s leadership and that “anyone who thinks the university is in good shape is deluded”.

A Buckingham spokeswoman said: “The financial penalty levied by the OfS is for the late publication of the 2019 audited accounts. The late publication was because of the complexities of the accounts, exacerbated by Covid lockdowns, including reflecting substantial investment in the new campus in Crewe at that time.

“A very thorough investigation of our financial and governance processes uncovered that there were some issues three years ago before the new administration took over. These have now been dealt with. Every effort is being made to complete the accounts as soon as possible.

“The University of Buckingham is in a sound financial position. Student recruitment remains buoyant. Our January 2023 intake is already 25 percent up on last year.”

timeshighereducation.com

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