An academic who apparently received his doctorate in a short time when regulations stipulate normal studies should be three to six years, is at the centre of a storm of controversy after being appointed to a scandal-hit Welsh business school, The Eye can reveal.
Major questions are also now being raised by senior staff at Swansea university about whether due process was followed in the appointment of Professor Steve Chan to the institution’s School of Management, which hit the headlines when the then Dean resigned suddenly following a series of scandals exposed by us.
A source within the university told The Eye: “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 ‘untitled’ doctorate in 2013, when university rules dictate that normally the minimum ‘candidature’ for a full-time Ph.D student is three years, and six years if studies are taken part-time.
He lists a series of posts elsewhere, indicating he was not a full-time student, so must have been available for a minimum of 35 hours per week, suggesting he was studying for at least two years at Swansea university.
The only alternative 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.
At Swansea Professor Chan is “Professor of Smarter Cities for a Safer Planet and the Internet of Things as well as Chair of Cyber Analytics and Network/Relationship Science”.
His Ph.D was supervised by the Dean of the School of Management, Marc Clement, his present boss, who has retained his role at the university’s medical school, and he was also a ‘Fellow’ at a controversial scholarship project run by Professor Clement, where serious irregularities were identified by auditors.
His work was also supervised by Mark Rees, another academic at the medical school.
One of the Swansea university sources told The Eye: “Given his (Professor Chan’s) alleged area of expertise in big data science, which one can assume his Ph.D was researching, why then are two medical professors supervising this student?
“You would expect professors from the university’s renowned ‘Department of Computer Science’ to be doing this.
“Such supervisory practices would not normally be allowed by any academic institution as it would be expected that supervisors are experts in the field being studied by their doctoral students.
“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.”
The university is at the centre of inquiries about Professor Chan, who also has connections with Hawaii university.
His official CV says: “At Hawaii Pacific University, (I am) a Research Professor of Sensemaking and Visualization Analytics.”
Swansea say 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,”
The Eye have asked what this means.
A series of questions is also being posed by staff at the university.
One of the internal sources told The Eye: “Did Steve Chan do the minimum time of study required by the Ph.D regulations?
“Who were the ‘external examiners’?“
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 being engulfed in scandal over the former Dean, Nigel Piercy.
Sources within Swansea university told The Eye Professor Clement was the wrong official for the job.
Professor Piercy resigned suddenly as Dean in July, after calling his critics “grubby little people”.
His son Niall, also quit the school two weeks after his father, but his wife, Nikala Lane, remains.
One source told The Eye at the time: “It is worth noting that whilst he (Marc Clement) was Vice Chancellor of the University of Wales, he was supervising ELEVEN Ph.Ds at Swansea University (all awarded in 2010).
“Who allowed him to do this?
“No wonder he didn’t have time to focus on ensuring the University of Wales survived.
“He is now going to be doing the same at the School of Management whilst … supervising far too many research students.
“What will happen to academic standards within the School of Management?
“It is another disaster waiting to happen and would never happen in other universities.”
He was a key figure in a scholarship project at the centre of a scandal over funding, where Professor Chan 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 hi-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 revealed 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 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.
Six days ago The Eye submitted a series of questions about Professor Chan and his appointment to Swansea university.
There has been no answer.
Perhaps they need lessons from their ‘professor of sensemaking’.
Tomorrow – huge questions about ranking system hailed by Swansea university officials for placing them at 161, but which puts little known institutions at the top.