Legal ruling leaves everyone a winner

Queen Mary and Hefce both claim victory in dispute over research cash clawback, says Melanie Newman

July 17, 2008


A High Court dispute between Queen Mary, University of London, and the Higher Education Funding Council for England has ended with both parties claiming victory.

Queen Mary went to the High Court to challenge a decision by Hefce to take back tens of thousands of pounds it said that it had wrongly paid the university.

A judicial review has now quashed Hefce's move to recover the research cash. The court ruled that the wrong person at Hefce had made the decision to reclaim the money, but it did not say the decision itself had been wrong or unreasonable.

Hefce wanted to claw back up to £852,000 it had awarded to Queen Mary in 2006-07 for medical research because, in its view, the university had breached a condition of the grant. Hefce awards research money in proportion to income universities have raised from charities, but only if the charity funding is won in "open competition".

When applying for the grant, Queen Mary included in its total charitable research income £3.8 million from St Bartholomew's and the Royal London Charitable Foundation. The foundation makes awards to three organisations only - Queen Mary, St Bartholomew's School of Nursing at City University and a National Health Service trust - and its research advisory panel consists solely of people from the institutions.

When Hefce became aware of the circumstances of the £3.8 million grant it argued that as the cash was available only to the three bodies, it had not been won in "open competition". It suggested it would make adjustments to the university's future funding to take account of this.

The university argued that it fulfilled Hefce's own definition of open competition - that the grant was "open to competitive bids from more than one institution".

But the High Court agreed with Hefce that the foundation's grant-awarding processes did not count as open competition.

Queen Mary also argued that the decision was invalid because it had not been made by Hefce's chief executive, the only person authorised to make it. The court agreed on this point and remitted the decision to the chief executive for reconsideration.

Queen Mary said: "We are pleased that the Hefce decision has been quashed on the grounds that it did not follow its own decision-making processes correctly and that the matter has been referred back to Hefce to reconsider."

Hefce said: "We are pleased to have won this case. The High Court has approved Hefce's processes, and confirmed that it is for Hefce and not the Court to determine if our terms and conditions have been complied with. We will now consider whether and how, as a matter of our discretion, to recover overpayment."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

20 years ago

All Australian students have two things in common. Every one of them, male or female, has amazingly well developed and shapely legs. Second, all have marvellously deployable grandmothers ... Unlike the trad old babushka capable only of cooking and nursing, the Oz grandmere is able to fall seriously ill when required and they are so required by 97.2 per cent of Australian students pleading for an extension of the time limit for handing in an essay. (Bob Dowse, University of Western Australia, writing in Don's Diary).

Liberty University, the Reverend Jerry Falwell's college for born-again Christians, seems to be going soft on sex. Though hugging and kissing are still punishable offences, the 5,000 students on the Lynchburg, Virginia, campus may now, with Mr Falwell's blessing, hold hands. What is more, undergraduates are to be permitted dates with the opposite sex ... (But) they still have to attend chapel on Sundays, wear ties or dresses to class, and are still forbidden to listen to secular music.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations