Institution ‘at higher risk’ of financial failure for 11 years

Concerns over body date back to October 1998, secret Hefce list reveals. Melanie Newman reports

July 1, 2009

A university has been included on a secret list of higher education institutions at risk of financial failure for 11 years, Times Higher Education can reveal.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England’s current list of bodies “at higher risk” features seven institutions.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has held that Hefce’s internal risk list should not be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. It has recommended that the funding body should withhold the information from the public until it is at least three years out of date “to allow a degree of protection for the majority of full-time undergraduates during the time they are on their courses, and allow institutions time to try to address the majority of the difficulties they face”.

Accordingly, Hefce has always declined to disclose its most up-to-date list.

But the information was released last month by the former Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills following an FoI request by Times Higher Education into correspondence concerning the ongoing funding crisis at London Metropolitan University, where 550 jobs are at risk following the over-reporting of student completion rates.

Times Higher Education has decided not to publish the names on the list, but can reveal that one institution has been featured since October 1998. The list comprises four post-92 universities and three specialist colleges.

An institution is assessed as being at higher risk if it falls into one of a number of categories, including “a significant deterioration” in its financial position and “serious concerns about management and governance capability”.

Material released by Hefce in 2007 showed that 43 institutions appeared on the list between 1998 and 2003.

That only seven institutions currently appear may be seen as surprising during the recession.

A Hefce spokesman said: “The overall financial results for the higher education sector in 2007-08 showed a positive and financially sound position, with some improvement on the performance in 2006-07.

“Although the sector is currently in a financially sustainable position, the deterioration of the world economic situation and increased pressure on public finances present significant challenges to its long-term sustainability over the next few years.”

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