A full investigation is being demanded at a leading Welsh university into the appointment of a senior academic after revelations it is feared an international corporation may sever connections with the institution, The Eye can disclose.
We have reported how major questions are being raised about Professor Steve Chan, and his appointment to Swansea university’s controversial School of Management.
The Eye now understand there are growing fears among senior executives at the university the giant technology firm IBM, may cut all ties with Swansea.
The backdrop to the growing storm of controversy is the previous controversial regime at the school, led by the former Dean, Nigel Piercy, his son Niall, who both resigned, and his wife Nikala Lane, who remains.
During the Piercy regime the school was engulfed by scandal disclosed by The Eye.
Yet now the school is at the centre of controversy for different reasons.
“We might not have agreed with the behaviour and actions of the Piercys but one thing we certainly can agree on is the need to have a full investigation into the conduct and competence of the university’s senior management team”, one academic told The Eye.
The school is now run by Professor Marc Clement – his colleague Steve Chan is ‘Chair and Professor of Cyber Analytics/Network Relationship Science’.
Professor Chan is also in the same group as Professor Clement at IBM.
Swansea university were confronted with a series of queries about Professor Chan by The Eye on January 13.
In particular we wanted to know how he secured his PhD in a short time when the institution’s regulations dictate that studies are normally for at least three years.
No answers have been provided.
These are the questions:
1. When was he (Professor Chan) appointed to the school?
2. What is his title?
3. He is officially described as ‘Professor of Smarter Cities for a Safer Planet and the Internet of Things as well as Chair of Cyber Analytics and Network/Relationship Science’ – what does this mean?
4. What, if anything, is his connection to Professor Marc Clement?
5. Why was his Ph.D awarded after two years (it may be much shorter), when your regulations stipulate the minimum period of study should be three?
6. Why were two academics at your medical school (Professors Clement and Mark Rees) supervising his Ph. D?
7. What was Professor Chan’s doctorate on?
8. Were all regulations followed in his subsequent appointment to the School of Management?
Professor Chan is Chief Strategy Advisor at IBM’s ‘Center for Resiliency and Sustainability’, which is an integral part of their ‘Safer Planet and Smarter Cities’ research group.
Professor Clement is on the ‘sensemaking’ advisory board of the same centre, and could be expected to have played a key role in the appointment of Professor Chan to the management school, where he is Dean.
Huge uncertainty now focuses on whether Professor Chan was properly registered at Swansea, and served the appropriate time as a Ph.D student.
Questions have also been raised about the analysis of work for his Ph.D, and the role of any external examiners.
Further queries surround whether all regulations were followed in his subsequent appointment to the university’s school of Management.
A source within the university told The Eye earlier: “This whole thing is highly suspicious”.
Another said: “Apparently, he (Professor Chan) is Director of ‘Swansea University’s Network/Relationship Science Analytics Programme’ which almost no-one has heard of here at Swansea.”
Professor Chan was awarded his doctorate in 2013.
He lists a series of posts elsewhere, indicating he was not a full-time student at Swansea, so must have been available for a minimum of 35 hours per week.
The only alternative to study at the university, is if a doctorate candidate had been a Ph.D student at another high-quality institution such as Harvard or Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and transferred to Swansea, following a recommendation from the relevant head of school, so that the period of study at the institution is recognised.
One of Professor Chan’s Ph.D supervisors was Professor Clement who has controversially retained his role at the university’s medical school, and he is also ‘Fellow’ at a controversial scholarship project run by Professor Clement, where serious irregularities were identified by auditors.
One of the Swansea university sources told The Eye: “In terms of the academic credibility of Swansea university, the real question is how someone who has just been awarded a Ph.D can become a chair almost immediately at our institution.”
Swansea will only say officially that Professor Chan “is the Director of Swansea University’s Network/Relationship Science Analytics PhD Programme, focusing upon those Sensemaking methodologies and tools that will facilitate moving from Big Data to Big Insights to effectuate more robust decision-making when approaching the Big Problems that necessitate Big Decisions – the realm of Context Computing,”
But his superior, Professor Clement, is no stranger to controversy either.
When he was named as the new Dean of the management school in the Summer, senior academics warned that his appointment may be “a disaster waiting to happen”.
At the university’s college of medicine he supervised the work of a large number of students, and was in charge of the University of Wales before it virtually collapsed.
Commentators said at the time they believed the school needed a full-time official in charge, after hitting the headlines during the contentious regime of their former Dean, Professor Piercy., who resigned suddenly as Dean in July, after calling his critics “grubby little people” .
Professor Piercy’s son Niall also quit the school two weeks after his father.
He was a key figure in a scholarship project at the centre of a scandal over funding, where we have disclosed Professor Chan also has connections.
Under the £11.4 million Prince of Wales Innovation Scholarship (POWIS) high-flying graduates from all over the world were meant to be singled out for Ph.D projects that would see them embedded in new high-tech companies, creating employment opportunities.
Each student was to receive a stipend of £20,000 a year, as well as a research grant of £5,000 and get all tuition fees paid.
Prince Charles said when it was launched: “It seeks to take the best of Wales to the world and bring the best of the world to Wales.
“The scholarships are, I think, a very practical and very exciting response to how higher education can help the Welsh economy in a time of crisis.”
But in 2011, the Cardiff bay Government’s Welsh European Funding Office (WEFO) withdrew financial backing from POWIS, which was run by the University of Wales where Professor Clement was Vice Chancellor, after serious irregularities were identified by auditors.
In their report three men, including Professor Clement, were identified as having overlapping interests in seven companies.
It was also disclosed that one of the first beneficiaries of POWIS was the daughter of Professor Richard Davies, Vice Chancellor of Swansea University, his overall boss.
Yet she did not hold a first-class degree as the scheme stipulated.
As well as POWIS, Professor Clement was also closely linked to the ill-fated Technium initiative, which was designed to foster the growth of new companies.
Some Techniums have had extremely poor occupancy rates and six were scrapped five and a half years ago.
He was also the senior official in charge at the University of Wales, when a huge row erupted over the validation of bogus degrees.
In November 2010, BBC Wales screened an episode of their TV current affairs series Week In Week Out which claimed that Fazley Yaakob, a pop star and head of Fazley International College, a University of Wales partner in Malaysia, held bogus degrees.
Following a second BBC investigation, the vice-chancellors of Cardiff, Swansea, Aberystwyth, Bangor and Glamorgan universities – known collectively as the St David’s Day Group – called for an end to the University of Wales.
Yet Professor Clement controversially exercised an ‘option to return’ to Swansea as the University of Wales effectively abolished itself following a ‘merger’ with Trinity St David’s.
Controversy appears to dog Swansea university, but to clear the air they could start by answering questions about Professor Chan from The Eye.
Tomorrow – the new leader of the Greens in Wales has advice for her followers on how to handle the media.