LSE could take legal action over grant allocation: University departments with poor research ratings and high teaching costs are warned they face cash squeeze as pounds 2.3bn funding is distributed

THE LONDON School of Economics is considering seeking a judicial review of its financial allocation from the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

The row, which could set an embarrassing precedent for the Government, erupted as the funding council announced its distribution of pounds 2.31bn to 128 universities and higher education institutions.

John Ashworth, director of the LSE, is furious that it has suffered a cutback in research funding despite being rated by the funding council among the top three research institutions in the country.

The LSE's total grant for the next academic year is 1.8 per cent up on this year, compared to increases of more than 11 per cent for its main research rivals, Oxford, Cambridge and University College, London.

Next week the school's academic board will discuss a proposal to seek a judicial review. Dr Ashworth said last night that if this was agreed he would seek counsel's opinion.

Graeme Davies, chief executive of the funding council, said the LSE's allocation was made on the basis of the council's new system of funding research - based on staff rather than student numbers as in the past. 'We have overfunded them a little in recent years. All we are doing is to bring them back into the same funding methodology as the other institutions.'

But with few outright losers in this year's grant round, the distribution was generally welcomed by most universities, particularly the former polytechnics which gained substantial research funding for the first time. But academics expressed fears that the Government's decision to limit student numbers for the next three years will mean many young people being denied the chance of doing a degree.

Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the funding council, said yesterday that it had been able to safeguard universities from financial damage but had thrown open the door to the former polytechnics to receive research funding on their merits. The 'new universities' have been awarded pounds 43m in research funding - a fivefold increase - based on the funding council's recent selectivity exercise which rated the quality of research in all university departments.

The council's policy of rewarding institutions with low teaching costs in the coming academic year has also benefited many of the former polytechnics.

University departments with poor research ratings and high teaching costs will be 'squeezed progressively', Professor Davies warned yesterday. Arts and social science departments will be hardest hit as the Government attempts to encourage more students into engineering and science.

Aston, Bradford, and Salford universities and Goldsmith's College, London, suffered funding cuts limited to 1 per cent under the council's safety net arrangements. The LSE, Bristol and Brunel universities also fared badly.

Dr David Harrison, chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, said: 'This is a remarkable achievement by the funding council, considering the confusion introduced by a government which asks for expansion one minute and consolidation the next. The universities have been largely protected from the worst effects of this sudden change of policy by a flexible and reasonably transparent funding method. But who will look after the thousands of people who, over the next three years, will be denied the university place they deserve?'

David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said that the allocations would mean the biggest cut in the amount of money per student for decades.

He added: 'The clampdown on student numbers will hit school-leavers next year. In a desperate attempt to balance their books, universities will be forced to cut student intakes, slamming the door in the faces of next year's leavers who would hope to gain a place in higher education.'

In most cases the losers were universities with a number of departments poorly rated for research and which had not expanded student numbers sufficiently in the past year.

Research funding of pounds 618m in 1993/94 is being concentrated on departments judged to be doing research of national excellence instead of being spread across all departments in the old universities, as in the past.

Universities will have to decide whether departments with weak research should become teaching-only, or whether only some members of staff in a department would pursue research while the rest concentrated on teaching.

Neil Merritt, vice-chancellor of Portsmouth University, said yesterday that the 16 per cent increase was a recogniton of the former polytechnic's investment in research. There had been 'modest' growth to the present level of 11,500 students.

Universities in Scotland and Wales will hear their allocations from their funding councils next month.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WHO GETS WHAT ----------------------------------------------------------------- Name Total Change grant % pounds ms Anglia Polytechnic University 17.4 6 Aston University 14.5 -1 University of Bath 17.4 10.1 University of Birmingham 48.8 10.5 Bournemouth University 9.1 4.6 University of Bradford 16.8 -1 University of Brighton 18.2 10.9 University of Bristol 41.5 1 Brunel University 14.6 0.9 University of Cambridge 62.4 11.7 University of Central England in Birmingham 19.5 1.4 University of Central Lancashire 20.1 6.4 City University 14.6 5.5 Coventry University 20.4 13.5 Cranfield Institute of Technology 13 NA De Montfort University 25.2 9.9 University of Derby 9.7 5.4 University of Durham 22.6 9.5 University of East Anglia 18 5.2 University of East London 19.1 8.8 University of Essex 12.8 3.3 University of Exeter 23.5 3.3 University of Greenwich 23.5 12.4 University of Hertfordshire 20.7 14.1 University of Huddersfield 15.5 8.8 University of Hull 19.4 2.7 University of Humberside 13.2 1.0 University of Keele 11.8 6.4 University of Kent 15.6 4.2 Kingston University 20.3 8.1 University of Lancaster 20.3 6.7 University of Leeds 51.8 6.2 Leeds Metropolitan University 23.4 6.6 University of Leicester 24.4 6.9 University of Liverpool 45.5 3.1 Liverpool John Moores University 26.2 7.6 University of London 134 4 Birkbeck College 16.5 4.1 Goldsmiths' College 11.9 -1 Imperial College of Science Technology & Medicine 45.8 9.4 King's College 34.2 3.6 London Business School 2.3 12.9 London School of Economics 13.9 1.8

Oueen Mary & Westfield College 20.6 2 Royal Holloway & Bedford New College 12.7 5.7 University College 52.5 11.2 London Guildhall University 16.1 6.4 Loughborough University of Technology 22.6 2.7 Manchester Metropolitan University 40 9.2 UMIST 20.4 6.9 University of Manchester 61 9 Middlesex University 22.3 14.3 University of Newcastle 40.6 2.3 University of North London 18.9 9.1 University of Northumbria at Newcastle 20 8.7 University of Nottingham 39.4 8 Nottingham Trent University 26.9 7 Open University 98.3 NA University of Oxford 59.1 11.3 Oxford Brookes University 14.9 11.9 University of Plymouth 21.8 13.2 University of Portsmouth 19.5 16 University of Reading 26.1 6.3 Roehampton Institute 9.8 22.6 Royal College of Art 6.9 NA Royal College of Music 1.6 NA Royal Northern College of Music 2.4 -1 University of Salford 15.4 -1 Sheffield Hallam University 30.8 6.8 University of Sheffield 41.6 3.5 University of Southampton 35.4 7 South Bank University 28.3 12.7 Staffordshire University 16.7 8 University of Sunderland 15.7 11.9 University of Surrey 16.5 6.3 University of Sussex 20.6 11.6 University of Teesside 13.7 4.6 Thames Valley University 15.8 7.4 University of Warwick 31 6.9 University of Westminster 28.2 12.3 University of the West of England, Bristol 24.2 7.3 University of Wolverhampton 22.8 5.8 University of York 17.1 6.1 -----------------------------------------------------------------

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