Tutors' union calls for funding 'sleaze-buster'

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The Independent Online

The Government must establish a watchdog to ensure commercial companies cannot interfere with academics' research and censor their findings, the university tutors' union said yesterday.

The Government must establish a watchdog to ensure commercial companies cannot interfere with academics' research and censor their findings, the university tutors' union said yesterday.

The Association of University Teachers is concerned that the increasing tendency of companies to sponsor universities threatens to jeopardise academic independence.

The union's latest figures show more than 12 per cent of all research grants and contracts are from private sources. It wants a powerful "sleazebuster" to head a commission into academic freedom, and has called for a register of universities' interests.

The union called the University of Nottingham's decision to accept £3.8m from British American Tobacco to fund an International Centre in Corporate Responsibility as "the worst decision of the year". Tobacco sponsorship topped the list of "unethical financial deals" in a review of university research and funding in 2001, the union said.

Sally Hunt, its assistant general secretary, said: "Each year more pressure is put on universities to accept private finance at any cost. While business partnerships and sponsorship have a long and proud tradition in research, the money should not be used for core costs or to make up shortfalls from government funding.

"It is time for the Government to accept that there needs to be a national debate on the future of higher education funding. If the Government wants world-class universities, then it needs to sort out the dire pay and conditions of university staff."

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