Cardiff University Business School has awarded an £11,500 research bursary to the sister of one of its staff after she failed to win funding for her PhD through the school's nationally advertised doctoral studentships competition.
The university this week insisted the bursary, which covers £7,500 of fees and includes a £4,000 grant, was awarded purely on the basis of the student's abilities after "competitive assessment" of a number of candidates. But it confirmed that the bursary had not been advertised, and that the student had failed to win one of Cardiff's main advertised studentships through the conventional applications process. Staff have complained to The THES that the decision lacked proper transparency.
The award was made by Patrick Minford, former economics adviser to Margaret Thatcher and professor of applied economics at the business school, to the sister of a colleague, a lecturer at the school. The THES has agreed not to name the student.
A spokeswoman for Cardiff said this week that the number of conventional studentships awarded this year was dictated by the budget, and that it was correct that the beneficiary's sister "was one of the unsuccessful candidates in this competition". But she said that there were funds available for a number of additional studentships or bursaries from money donated for specified research fields.
The bursary was one of two administered by the business school's Julian Hodge Bank Institute for Applied Macroeconomics, funded by the bank's charitable arm, the Jane Hodge Foundation, and run by Professor Minford.
A spokesperson for the university said that under the terms of the grant from Jane Hodge, the money could be used only to foster applied-macroeconomic research, and that as director of the institute and "grant holder" for the Hodge money, Professor Minford "has significant discretion subject to the terms and conditions of the grant or award to manage (the institute's) affairs".
"The award of bursaries to support the research activities in applied macroeconomics of the institute was decided to be an appropriate way forward," the spokeswoman said. She said that while the two bursaries were not themselves advertised, "consideration was given to all those students who had applied to the national advertisement for studentships along with all those who had applied for a doctoral place at the business school whose research area was applied macroeconomics".
"The decision taken to award two bursaries was based entirely on a competitive assessment of the merits of the candidates thus defined," she added.
Professor Minford said he could explain the decision-making process in detail, and each candidate for the bursary was judged against set assessment criteria. "The two individual bursaries were in his view and in the view of the director of the business school significantly the strongest candidates," the spokeswoman said.
She said: "We would like to point out that under our equal opportunities policy it would be completely inappropriate to favour an applicant for a bursary or studentship on the grounds that they were related to a member of staff."
There was no suggestion of any improper influence over the decision by the lecturer, who was unavailable for comment as The THES went to press.
Watchdog investigates A-level online cheating
The qualifications watchdog has launched an investigation into The THES 's report that A-level students were swapping coursework to plagiarise from one another on one of the country's most popular revision internet sites.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said it was deeply concerned by the Whistleblower special investigation last month, in which a THES reporter obtained a completed B-grade assignment from a second-year A-level student within a matter of hours of logging on to the Revise.it website.
A QCA spokesman said that its quality and audit team were in discussions with the exam boards about the problem.
Revise.it declined to comment.
Whistleblowers returns on January 3