Triple headache for accountants

October 13, 1995

Access funds, always objects of student scepticism, have begun to inspire fear and loathing among university accounts departments.

In the dock alongside them is a more familiar villain, the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which has surpassed itself by having three access fund management policies in the space of 11 months.

Despite their financial complexity, most universities operate a single bank account. No problem, provided separate ledger accounts are maintained. Better interest rates are obtainable and life is simpler.

But in November 1994 came the instruction that access funds must be, in the words of HEFCE circular 30/94: "Properly managed through a separate, interest-bearing ac-count."

Great was the wailing from accounts departments. So great that the noise reached Northavon House, Bristol and HEFCE concluded that they had a point. On January 18, HEFCE chief executive Graeme Davies wrote to institutions: "Subject to there being clear and well-defined audit and accountability lines, it will be sufficient for institutions to maintain a separate ledger account."

Relief all round, except for irritation from those who had already set up the new accounts. They would have done well to keep the new accounts in reserve. On September 28 came the latest instructions: "Institutions should note that the concession promulgated in the Chief Executive's circular letter indicating that a separate ledger account would suffice for this purpose, has been withdrawn."

A HEFCE spokesman said: "We try to make life as easy and practical as possible for universities."

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