Whistleblowers: Hefce to take no action over London Met errors

August 8, 2003

London Metropolitan University made a number of errors in its submissions to the research assessment exercise, according to an investigation by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. But in a report branded "farcical" this week by Alan O'Day, the academic who raised the alarm more than two-and-a-half years ago, Hefce says it has no plans to seek redress for the inaccurate but "immaterial" submissions.

In the report obtained by The THES , Hefce's head of audit, Paul Greaves, says he wrote to the chief executive of the university, Brian Roper, to "remind him" that "all universities are under an obligation, as part of the conditions of grant imposed by... Hefce, to make accurate data returns".

Hefce concludes that although Dr O'Day's allegations that the university had misrepresented its true research output had been "for the most part factually accurate", the RAE guidelines had been "broad and with scope for interpretation". This meant that the errors fell "within the boundaries of legitimate interpretation" or did not impact on the money allocated to the university.

Dr O'Day, who was a senior lecturer in the history department at the University of North London in the 1990s before merger saw it become London Met last year, alleged that the department overinflated its submissions to the 1992 and 1996 RAEs to boost its performance.

In its report, Hefce confirms the accuracy of Dr O'Day's allegation that the university submitted three authored books by historian Ben Fowkes for assessment in 1992, when in fact "some were translations". But it found that there was no clear breach of guidelines because there was no category for translations in 1992.

There was a similar problem with Dr Fowkes' works in 1996, when the university submitted a translation by him claiming it was an authored book.

"We confirmed that although translations are allowed, the university had not categorised this publication correctly," Hefce said. "The university has made an error in the 1996 submission. Dr O'Day's allegation is upheld and the university was in error, but the effect is immaterial."

Hefce confirms the accuracy of Dr O'Day's claim that a book submitted for assessment in the 1992 exercise by historian Cathy Castle, Britannia's Children , was not published until 1996. In its report, Hefce says there is "no breach" of the rules because a contract to publish was transferred to another publisher after the RAE, explaining the delay.

The same book was submitted again for the 1996 exercise - but still was published too late to be included. Hefce says: "Although this was out of time, it may have been submitted as 'forthcoming'. We believe that the RAE panel would have taken a decision on the validity of this publication."

Another work by Dr Castle which was submitted as an "edited book" for the 1996 exercise, was actually an entry in a teaching textbook, but "textbooks were not banned",Hefce says.

The report confirms that the university could not verify the existence of a refereed journal article submitted for the RAE in 1992, but Hefce says: "We do not consider it material enough to pursue further." Nor could London Met verify the publication date of a book by history professor John Tosh, which Dr O'Day said had been published too late for the 1996 exercise and had not been declared as "forthcoming". Hefce says: "Dr O'Day's information is accurate but this is a technical and immaterial breach of the RAE regulations."

Hefce also found that a book by Professor Tosh the university submitted for 1992 was a revised version of one first published in 1984, but this was allowed.

A book by Jean Stubbs that was submitted for the 1992 exercise was published in 1993 and, Hefce found, "the university conceded that they may not have stated that this was forthcoming in the submission".

Mr Greaves concludes: "The errors and interpretations will have had little impact on the overall assessments and we therefore have no plans to seek redress."

Dr O'Day, a visiting fellow at Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute, said: "This is a complete farce and I don't see how they botched it so badly. What he seems to say is that yes the violations exist but they aren't sufficiently important."

Roderick Floud, vice-chancellor of London Met, said: "We are pleased that Hefce has judged that the university worked within the RAE rules except for isolated and immaterial errors."

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