UEA included amid Lib Dems’ anger over use of ‘gagging orders’
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Universities including the UEA have been accused by the Liberal Democrats of using gagging orders, after an investigation found more than 3,500 former staff members in higher education have signed compromise agreements in five years.
Freedom of information requests show 48 universities have paid out £146m in severance cash to ex-employees over the past five years and 3,722 people were asked to sign compromise or settlement agreements, which usually contain confidentiality clauses.
At UEA, more than £1m was paid out in settlements, with 79 redundancy packages since 2011/12 including compromise agreements.
These agreements tend to be made when someone accepts the payment in return for waiving the right to sue an organisation and they usually include a promise of confidentiality, often known as a gagging clause.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said the use of confidentiality clauses in compromise agreements by universities was not appropriate.
He said: “Universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech and forthright opinions, yet our research has shown that confidentiality clauses may have been used not only to avoid dirty laundry being aired in public but now are just common practice in higher education,” he said. “This is simply outrageous. These gagging orders have a deterrent effect.
“The cold wind of gagging staff and stifled debate, much in the public interest, is going through the halls of our bastions of enlightenment and tolerance.”
A UEA spokesman said: “Confidentiality clauses are a standard legal clause in this type of agreement.
“They are there to protect both parties involved, and to maintain confidentiality about an agreed financial settlement.
“Such clauses do not prevent an individual from making disclosures under whistleblowing legislation.”