A college principal criticised for claiming £150,000 in expenses will retire at the end of the academic year – but insisted her decision has “absolutely nothing to do with” the case.
Stella Mbubaegbu, principal and chief executive of Highbury College in Portsmouth since 2001, will stand down on 31 July 2020.
She told Tes she had given “my energy and my life to FE” over more than three decades working in the sector, and that she had informed the college’s governors of her plans this summer. The news was announced to college staff at a meeting this afternoon.
Department for Education minister Lord Agnew last month said he was “deeply concerned” over the expenses claimed on the principal's corporate credit card over a four-year period. These included £434 headphones, a meal for four including lobster which cost £356 and more than £70,000 in travel costs, including flights to the USA, Canada, India and Dubai, according to receipts released to FE Week following a ruling by the Information Commissioner’s Office.
The college has since been visited by FE commissioner Richard Atkins after Lord Agnew asked him to “urgently” look into the case, but a report has not yet been published.
'Absolutely no regrets over expenses'
Ms Mbubaegbu, who was made a CBE in 2008 for services to further education, said: “I have absolutely no regrets over expenses. All my expenses have been approved through college process. They have been audited. Why would I regret anything? My expenses have been duly approved, accounted for and audited.”
In a statement released at the time, Ms Mbubaegbu said the coverage had “attempted to paint a picture of me as a flagrant spend-thrift using college funds for my own personal gain”, adding that a “sizeable amount of the expenses was reimbursed to the college through grants or other funding and indeed some of the expenses were to cover travel and CPD events for other staff, but paid from the principal’s budget”.
Ms Mbubaegbu told Tes she had not read the comments about the case from Lord Agnew. “I did not read Lord Agnew’s criticism. I don’t know what he said. I think if that is what he said, I believe he probably did not have the full context of what he was responding to.”
On the visit from Mr Atkins, she said: “The FE commissioner came in and said that he had been asked to come in [by the Department for Education following the coverage of the expenses]. We haven’t yet had the full report from that visit and we are waiting for the report. That's where we’re at. It was a good visit.
“The college is doing well financially and quality-wise. We are out-turning good financial health for last year, we're getting stronger in terms of this year with our moving to a very strong, good, if not outstanding [rating] in financial health. For this year, quality-wise, our achievements are going up. Our enrolment trends are up. For the future, in terms of what myself and my leadership team are putting in place, this is a college in a good position, as best as we know what the future holds.”
'The right time to retire'
Speaking about her decision to retire, Ms Mbubaegbu said: "It’s the right time to retire. I actually informed our board in the summer of my intention to retire at the end of the academic year.
“Our current strategic plan expires in 2020. I didn’t feel that I should be undertaking the work next year for a new plan running from 2021 if I wasn’t going to be at least there for a large part of that period to take it forward. On Sunday I will be 64. I do want to do something else. I see this as another season of my working life. I don’t think I will ever stop [completely]. But I don’t have any intention of leaving the sector. I just want to work in a different role, do something else.
“I’ve given my energy and my life to FE. It’s been a good 30-plus years; I have got a lot of experience and passion for the sector, I don’t intend to give that up. I would want to continue making a difference including through advocacy for fairer and better funding, focusing on career paths of BME staff in the sector, and [carrying out] research into governance and performance management.”
More to follow