Political row rocks Saïd school

March 16, 2001

The head of the Saïd Business School in Oxford, which has been plunged into controversy over the involvement of the prime minister's office in its planning process, said this week that the row could damage recruitment.

"In recent months, the school's MBA programme has been ranked top in the UK and seventh in Europe by The Financial Times ," said Anthony Hopwood, director of the school. "Overall, the school was ranked second, just behind the London Business School. We feel these to be important achievements. We must not let political rows overshadow our academic success."

The university has introduced a new pay structure that allows the school to double salaries for top professors. The school's previous director had said that the salaries were too low to attract top-calibre academics. "We have consequently made a number of prestigious appointments," Professor Hopwood said. "The university is also reforming salaries at the lower end of the scale. This will give us more flexibility when recruiting."

The almost-completed school has drawn controversy ever since Syrian businessman Wafic Said donated £20 million towards its creation. There were immediate disputes about where the school should be built. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat MP at the centre of the planning row, said this week that he was still unhappy with the government's answers to his questions about the involvement of the prime minister's office.

Dr Harris, whose constituency includes the site, has a 1998 memo from an official in the government's regional offices that refers to "pressure" from the prime minster's office to speed a planning decision.

"I have always supported the business school and wanted a speedy planning decision myself," Dr Harris said. "What I do not understand is why No 10 itself was pushing for a speedy decision."

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