List of troubled institutions to remain secret

October 29, 2009

A list of universities that were at risk of financial failure four years ago has been partially disclosed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

But Hefce has decided against revealing the names of the institutions that were in the most trouble at the end of 2005 despite advice from the Information Commissioner that the risk register could be disclosed after three years.

A Hefce spokesman said: "Our approach has been to redact all information relating to institutions where we are satisfied that publication would damage their commercial interests."

In 2007, Richard Thomas, who was Information Commissioner at the time, said that withholding the names for three years would provide a degree of protection for the majority of full-time undergraduates during their courses, while giving institutions time to address the majority of the problems they faced.

Hefce board papers published last week show that in February 2005, there were 11 higher education institutions in Hefce's "category 2" list of bodies at higher risk.

Just one institution, the Birmingham School of Acting, was listed in "category 1", the highest-risk class.

The school was taken over by the University of Central England later that year, so there were no institutions left in the highest-risk category by the end of 2005.

Of the 11 institutions in category 2, seven had improved sufficiently to be downgraded by June 2005, leaving only Dartington College of Arts (which merged with University College Falmouth in April 2008) and three unnamed bodies.

In July this year, Times Higher Education revealed that there were seven institutions categorised by Hefce as being at higher risk, comprising four post-1992 universities and three specialist colleges. One had been on the list for 11 years.

Referring to the list in a House of Commons debate, Rob Wilson, Conservative MP for Reading East, said that according to sources at the funding council, the number of at-risk institutions could rise to as many as 30 next year as a result of the economic downturn.

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