Whistleblowers: University won funding by 'misrepresentation'

November 29, 2002

Funding chiefs are to investigate allegations that the University of North London made "extensive misrepresentations" in its submissions for funding in the research assessment exercise.

In a letter to a whistleblower seen by The THES , the Higher Education Funding Council for England confirms that after reviewing a dossier of claims against the university it believes "there may be a case for the university to answer".

Hefce's head of audit, Ian Gross, said in the letter last month that he would be making inquiries with the university, which merged with Guildhall University in the summer to form London Metropolitan University. He said that the allegations that the university's history department misrepresented its research output in the 1992 and 1996 RAEs, and received funding as a result, fell well within Hefce's remit. The allegations, he said, "clearly relate to Hefce's functions as a funding body and its relationship with the institution as set out in the financial memorandum".

Whistleblower Alan O'Day is now a visiting fellow at Oxford University's Rothermere American Institute and was senior lecturer in North London's history department during the 1990s. In a letter to Hefce he says that the department breached a number of procedures.

In the 1996 exercise, he says, the department submitted research that was published outside the specified timescale. He also claims that the department put forward reprints of previously published work that included only insubstantial amendments, and that it included material published in-house that "seems to have no relevance to historical scholarship and submitted with the intent of creating an illusion of activity".

The THES has learnt that in the 1996 RAE, at least one submission for assessment was published outside the prescribed timescale, in 1989 rather than between 1990 and March 1996.

Dr O'Day also complains that too much use was made of publications said to be "forthcoming in press" in the 1992 exercise that were not published during the prescribed timescale, although it is understood that the RAE rules did allow this practice in 1992.

This week, a spokeswoman for London Metropolitan University said the university had not heard from Hefce and was unaware of any investigation. She said it would be inappropriate to comment in the circumstances.

But when approached on this matter by The THES previously, the university said it denied all allegations and had detailed evidence showing that in each case, the submission was permissible under RAE rules.

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