Specialist provision in East European and former Soviet Union studies is to be the subject of an inquiry by the higher education funding councils.
The Higher Education Funding Council for England agreed this week, at a meeting attended by representatives of the Welsh and Scottish councils and the Northern Ireland education department, to set up the inquiry which is intended to report by the end of the summer.
It represents a significant break with recent funding council practice, but Graeme Davies, chief executive of HEFCE, denies that it presages a return to the hands-on approach to subject provision seen under the old University Grants Committee. He said: "This is an exceptional case which needs some top-down action."
Provision in minority area and language studies has so far been catered for through normal funding supplemented by HEFCE's minority subjects scheme: "It is feasible that the report may identify areas of important activity which are not currently supported through the minority subjects programme", said Professor Davies.
The decision follows a long campaign by the subject community. The Wooding report of 1989, calling for special funding, produced no result other than a small research scholarship programme announced by then premier Margaret Thatcher on a visit to Kiev.
Last week Professor Davies met Michael Branch, director of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, Stephen White, professor of Russian studies at Glasgow University and chair of the British Association for Slavonic and East European studies, and Malcolm Jones, professor of Slavonic languages at Nottingham University, together with Sir Norman Wooding and representatives of the Foreign Office and the British Council.
Professor Branch said: "I wholeheartedly welcome the funding council's recognition that there has been a massive multiplication of academic needs - linguistic, economic, political and cultural - relating to the region".