Funding chiefs aim to lighten the load

October 1, 1999

Concerns that there is a growing burden of accountability in higher education have prompted the funding chiefs to commission research on the nature and extent of accountability arrangements.

Universities hope that reporting arrangements will be streamlined once the research is complete, at the end of next year.

"It is not that institutions resent accountability, but that we need to find a better way of providing the information," said Diana Green, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam University, who represents the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals on the Higher Education Funding Council for England steering group.

The announcement comes as universities, the funding councils and the Quality Assurance Agency wrangle over a new quality assurance methodology designed to minimise the burden of scrutiny on institutions. Both quality assurance and financial accountability will come under the spotlight of the HEFCE study.

"There is a worry about the amount of time that people put into preparing for audit, responding to consultations and preparing to bid for funding. This project will try to address the perceived increase in non-productive burdens that universities face," said John Rushforth, chief auditor at HEFCE.

In the next few weeks HEFCE intends to commission consultants to conduct the research. The first phase will be to map the extent of accountability; this is due to be completed by July 2000. The consultants will then identify how to streamline the provision of this information. For example, the research and funding councils, the National Health Service and other bodies could all use one definition of building space so universities do not have to present the same information in many different ways.

Findings from the study will be shared with the other funding councils and the Department for Education and Employment. The Standing Conference of Principals, the Association of Heads of University Administration and the Committee of University Chairmen are also represented on the steering group.

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