'Tis the season to be wary

December 21, 2001

Christmas may be a time of giving but at least one university has had to issue rules for staff who accept gifts from students amid concerns that they could be construed as bribes to bolster results.

Allegations that a lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton's School of Legal Studies received gifts from a mature student leading to conflict of interest proved unfounded, the university said. Nevertheless, from last week, staff have had to declare gifts from students on a departmental register.

They must log all gifts, hospitality, or other benefits received and give details of the students conferring the largesse, including an account of the student's relationship with the recipient.

Brain Mitchell, the dean, said this week: "It has always been the school's policy that students be discouraged from giving gifts to members of academic staff."

Liz Allen, national official for higher education at lecturers' union Natfhe, said rules on declaring gifts should include a minimum value, to avoid trivial reporting and mischief.

But she pointed out that most students could not afford the kind of lavish gifts likely to create conflicts of interest. A box of chocolates was more likely than a stay in a luxury Tuscan apartment, she said.

A spokesman for the University of East London said: "The only gifts, even in the international office, we know of have been a box of tea and a bar of chocolate."

Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said: "We do not wish there to be any kind of situation where a student could be perceived to be gaining any kind of advantage over his or her contemporaries."

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