(Featured image: Andrew Atherton (left) enjoying a drink with Steve Bradley (right) in July 2018. Via YF Foo.)

Spineless is pleased to report that things are looking up for Lancaster University's disgraced former Deputy Vice-Chancellor Andrew Atherton, who has found new employment in a lucrative role with a private company he developed extensive ties with during his time in University management.

After losing his job as head of Dundee University in November 2019, Professor Atherton, who worked at Lancaster from 2013 to 2018, is now employed as Global Director Transational Education by a company called Navitas, who are currently in a partnership with Lancaster to deliver the campus in Leipzig.

Atherton became Principal of Dundee University (which is also where Prof. Dame Sue Black joined Lancaster from - she didn't, perhaps, write a glowing reference for him?) at the start of 2019 but had been suspended by September for bullying allegations and issues over the non-payment of rent in his luxury University-provided housing. Atherton resigned in November after the allegations were published in the press.

Lancaster’s ties to Navitas begin 13 years ago. In 2007, subtext reported how Lancaster University signed an agreement with a company called Study Group International (SGI) to run an International Study Centre (ISC) on campus. The ISC, which is in the George Fox building, exists to provide international students with English language teaching in order for them to study at the University as undergraduates. At the time, subtext suggested it could be an example of ‘creeping privatisation’ of services previously offered by an established academic department, in this case LAEL.

The former head of SGI, Paul Lovegrove, led the organisation from 2006 to 2015. Lovegrove is now CEO of the university partnerships division at Navitas (and earnt a mere £389k for his labour in 2018). One of SGI’s study centres, which was developed while Lovegrove was in charge, is at Lincoln University. Lincoln University was where Atherton worked as Senior Deputy VC before coming to Lancaster, and no doubt the two 'worked closely', as subtext has previously suggested.

Paul Lovegrove (left) signing the Leipzig agreement with Mark E. Smith (right) in February 2019.

Atherton was Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Lancaster under Mark E. Smith and oversaw massive international expansion, including to Ghana, and, of course, to Leipzig. A 2016 paper written by Atherton noted that ‘the University is exploring additional offshore campus presences’, although at the time this was limited to China (materialised at BJTU) and the Gulf (not yet materialised). The Leipzig agreement was announced in mid-February 2019, two months after Atherton left Lancaster. However, it is highly likely Atherton was still at the University during negotiations with Navitas. Approval of the Leipzig campus should have been sought at University Senate (as well as, no doubt, other committees). University Senate meetings are sparse on detail in the period prior to the announcement and give no idea of when, if at all, approval was given. Towards the end of 2018 a restricted ‘Strategic Partnership Opportunity’ is mentioned in the minutes, but there is no indication this relates to Navitas and the Leipzig agreement.

The figure third-wheeling in this equation is our beloved interim vice-chancellor, Professor Steve Bradley. Bradley became Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) in 2010, and held the role till Atherton left for Dundee (at which point he became the Interim Deputy VC). Bradley has overseen the vast majority of international expansion and worked closely with Atherton on much of it. His relationship with Lovegrove, who he will have known through the Study Group International contract, must also be called into question when awarding the Leipzig contract to Navitas.

Navitas’ role at the Leipzig campus is varied: they provide a ‘Foundation Programme’ for students, they lease premises and facilities to Lancaster University, carry out student recruitment, and also provide the support services and administrative staff. Lancaster University holds responsibility for providing four accredited BSc programmes. At the end of 2019, the University advertised for the role of LU Leipzig Academic Dean, an academic post that would also act as the ‘senior representative of Lancaster University’ on the campus. The Campus Director is Dr Elisabeth Grindel-Denby, who completed her PhD at Lancaster and worked as deputy manager at the Gregson Centre before entering into the international education sector. She was academic affairs director of a private business school in Germany before taking on the Leipzig role.

Job adverts for lecturers at LU Leipzig say that applicants will be part of a ‘pool of lecturers with the opportunity for hourly paid teaching’. Contracts ‘will apply flexibility whenever possible.’ While not experts in German labour law, Spineless notes that it sounds like theses lecturers’ contracts will be very precarious and will replicate precisely the sort of working conditions that UCU are striking over at the moment. Hopefully the German education workers’ trade union GEW is watching closely.

Spineless has previously reported that Lancaster University’s former estates director, Mark Swindlehurst, is now managing director of UPP’s asset management company. UPP is a private provider of student accommodation and is currently in an agreement with Lancaster University to provide over 4,300 rooms on campus. Government rules regulating the revolving door do not extend to university staff, even though they are public authorities.

Staff and students have a right to know how much the University is paying a private education provider to operate Lancaster University Leipzig. Questions must also be asked as to whether there was a conflict of interest between Atherton and Lovegrove during the tendering or negotiation process. Whilst we wait for the answers to these questions, one thing Spineless readers can be assured of is that the revolving door is alive and well for senior management here at Lancaster.