Treasury threat to HEFCE survival

July 24, 1998

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is to be subject to a "fundamental review" by the Department for Education and Employment over the summer.

Vice-chancellors have been told that the DFEE has come under pressure from the Treasury to conduct the review. There are fears that some ministers would like to see a merged higher and further education funding council.

The review will seek to establish whether there is a continuing need for a funding body separate from government to fund higher education. A consultation paper will ask whether HEFCE is carrying out its functions effectively and what changes might be made to improve it. It will also query whether HEFCE or a "different body" is required to do the job of allocating resources to universities.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals is planning to be broadly supportive of the continuation of HEFCE, citing its commitment to openness and willingness to seek partnerships.

Martin Harris, CVCP chairman and vice chancellor of Manchester University, said: "While there may well be a case for closer co ordination for the research funding that universities receive, we do believe that the continued existence of a funding council for higher education is of great importance."

However, Peter Knight, vice-chancellor of the University of Central England, criticised the CVCP's unconditional support of the funding council and described its response to the review as a "wasted opportunity".

"This review is of major political interest and given the importance of the issue it is quite curious that the CVCP seems to be operating in such a secretive manner," he said.

Vice chancellors outside the CVCP executive committee had not been asked for their views he said. "It needs to be said that HEFCE is not well equipped to respond to changes in teaching; that it is not sympathetic to co-operation or to encouraging access; that it gets involved in too many ineffective special initiatives; and that it concentrates too much on research rather than on students."

Professor Knight said service on the HECFE council ought to be unremunerated to restore the old tradition of public service.

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