Middlesex investigated

March 31, 2000

'Middlesex University has been asked by Hefce to answer a number of points raised with the National Audit Office'

Funding council auditors are investigating alleged mismanagement at Middlesex University at the National Audit Office's request.

Middlesex and the Higher Education Funding Council for England both confirmed that the university had met with Hefce's audit team. It is understood that the auditors have been asked to examine staff concerns, reported in The THES late last year, about management and quality control at Middlesex University Business School.

The focus of scrutiny is an open and distance-learning course that had been set up outside Middlesex's normal quality control rules and in unusual circumstances.

Under the programme, students who had already obtained accountancy qualifications with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants were awarded 300 points towards a 360-point Middlesex degree as accredited prior learning. For Pounds 1,500 they could gain the extra 60 points with Middlesex by distance learning to obtain a full degree in accounting from Middlesex.

Under the rules, at least 120 points must come from Middlesex. The university said the academic planning board had approved the arrangements "on an exceptional basis".

Other details of the programme are controversial. When it was set up in 1997 98 with only 19 students, an outside company handled all administration: students were told to send coursework to a Post Office box number registered to MUBS at a small business centre in Harrow. The outsourcing deal has been abandoned as uneconomical, the university said, but the PO box is still open and registered to Middlesex.

Staff have also questioned potential conflicts of interest as one of the business school's external examiners was paid to write programmes for the accountancy course. The university denies any conflict. And it has been alleged that sums spent on the programme far outweigh the small returns.

The university said that it had already investigated the concerns and that a report by accountants KPMG had found no evidence of misappropriation of money. The university has declined to release the KPMG report or to confirm its remit.

Middlesex said this week: "The university has been asked by Hefce to answer a number of points which 'a correspondent' had raised with the National Audit Office. The university is very happy to satisfy Hefce and the NAO about any issues raised."

A Hefce spokesman said: "I can confirm that a meeting took place between members of our audit team and Middlesex University and that we are expecting additional information from Middlesex shortly."

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