CAMBRIDGE sociology professor Anthony Giddens is to be the new director of the London School of Economics, plunging him into the controversial debate over tuition fees for home undergraduates.
Professor Giddens, who is in the faculty of economics and politics at King's College, was selected three weeks ago from a shortlist including Baroness Blackstone, master of Birkbeck College, and economist Nick Stern. He was due to be offered the job at a special meeting of the court of governors last night.
Professor Giddens is set to start on January 7. And, while the court of governors will be asked to approve fees in principle at its meeting on December 12, it is thought unlikely that a final decision will be taken until Professor Giddens has had a say.
He will face a tight timetable. The interim report of the LSE's working party on fees has advocated a swift decision so that the information can be included in the 1998 prospectuses. This would leave the door open for charging the 1998 intake. The report recommends that fees be set at Pounds 1,000, with a scholarship scheme for poorer students. Failure to introduce fees as early as possible, says the report, would necessitate alternative measures to tackle a deficit which is projected to reach Pounds 3.7 million by 1999/2000.
Measures would include staff reductions or an increase in student numbers, leading to an "even greater deterioration in the staff-student ratio and thus in quality than is already planned".
Professor Giddens, who did his MA in sociology at the LSE, said: "I am keeping an open mind on tuition fees. I want to investigate what is going on at the LSE and look at the financial position."
The interim report reveals the concerns of some academics over fees. A survey of 16 departments found that half predicted a fall in the numbers of home students, some by as much as 90 per cent. Half again thought that it might be necessary to reduce entry standards or accept a general decline in student quality.
Former pro-director Leslie Hannah has been acting director of the LSE since John Ashworth's contract expired at the end of August. Comptroller and auditor general Sir John Bourn was offered the post in December last year, but turned it down.