Middlesex confused

September 22, 2000

Is someone being economical with the truth regarding the funding council's investigation into Middlesex University?

While the Higher Education Funding Council is today due to report on its investigations to the Department for Education and Employment and the National Audit Office, a series of contradictory public statements have made the investigation less than transparent.

In March this year, Hefce confirmed that the NAO had asked it to look into allegations of mismanagement at the business school, reported over the last year in The THES. In July, Middlesex issued this statement: "Hefce has made clear to the university that it has no intention of pursuing further any of the issues it asked the university to comment on."

But Hefce says that at that stage the investigation was incomplete and its investigators had "outstanding issues". Hefce "had not ruled out further inquiries". In fact, at least one key witness was not interviewed until August.

Middlesex stood by its statement of July 2000, saying it was not misleading. A spokeswoman said: "It reflected feedback that the university had received from Hefce and was given in good faith."

Hefce is adamant that it did not prejudge the outcome of its inquiries with a private briefing to Middlesex before investigations were complete: "It is totally untrue that the Hefce report has been prejudiced. We acknowledged to the university that progress had been made, in a one-page letter at an interim stage. We did not state that was the end of the process, and the university had no reason to believe that it was. The investigation continued in those areas where further information was needed."

Hefce will not make the report public.

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