Attempts to reduce the burden of red tape by funding chiefs are creating more paperwork for universities, the Government's red-tape buster, Dame Patricia Hodgson, told academic administrators this week.
In a frank speech about the continuing uphill task to minimise bureaucracy in academe, Dame Patricia said the higher education funding councils were being diverted from their main task of funding institutions by attempts to "micromanage" them.
While the comments are likely to confirm many academics' worst suspicions, they may surprise funding chiefs. Dame Patricia was unveiled this summer as one of the new board members of the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
Delivering the annual lecture to the Association of University Administrators conference, Dame Patricia, who chairs the Government task force targeting over-regulation in higher education, said: "Recently, Hefce was persuaded to drop its own monitoring of personnel policies in favour of a 'self-assessment' tool. Unfortunately, the personnel professionals in the institutions worked with Hefce on a template. They came up with 90 questions." Hodgson said that "best-practice" codes are multiplying on every issue and threaten to suffocate good management in universities.
She added that the councils must not be diverted from their main tasks by "second-guessing management in 130 diverse institutions across the land".
A spokesperson for Hefce said: "We do not micromanage institutions, we work at a strategic level, and the majority of our funding is allocated by formula as a block grant. Hefce is making strenuous efforts to reduce the accountability burden on institutions and has been doing so since 2000 and before."
Dame Patricia estimated that the annual cost of regulatory demands to the sector was greater than the £210 million estimated by a Hefce report last year.