The University of Buckingham has been fined by England’s higher education regulator for missing multiple deadlines to publish its audited accounts, creating “a significant regulatory risk” in the event of financial failure.

Officially opened by Margaret Thatcher as education secretary in 1976 – becoming the UK’s first private university since the first world war – Buckingham is the first university to be fined by the Office for Students (OfS).

The OfS said Buckingham failed to file its audited accounts for 2019 by its initial deadline of May 2020, and that the university then requested and missed subsequent extensions before finally filing, two years late, in June this year.

A report by the OfS said the fine was to reflect the potential dangers of failing to provide reliable financial information.

“Where this information is not provided in a timely manner, 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 financial failure of a provider,” the report stated.

The university will pay a penalty of £37,000 – equivalent to 0.1% of its qualifying income, mainly from student tuition fees – for the repeated delays, which Buckingham blamed on “the complexities of the accounts, exacerbated by Covid-lockdowns, including reflecting substantial investment in the new campus in Crewe”.

The university said: “A very thorough investigation of our financial and governance processes uncovered that there were some issues three years ago prior to the new administration taking 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% up on last year’s.”

Many of the difficulties appear to stem from Buckingham’s joint venture with an Indian healthcare provider to take over Manchester Metropolitan University’s former campus in Crewe. The partnership in Crewe was part of ambitious plans to open a medical school and offer health science courses.

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The 2019 accounts carry a note by the independent auditors that the financial arrangements “indicate the existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group’s and the university’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

Buckingham’s audited accounts for 2020 and 2021 are also overdue, although a spokesperson for Buckingham said they will be filed “very shortly”.


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