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London Metropolitan University

Volume 496: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Higher Education Funding Council for England on its funding for London Metropolitan university. (287053)

I have been in regular touch with HEFCE about the serious situation at London Met. I fully support HEFCE’s decision to commission an independent review of its actions, which it will publish shortly. A similar inquiry into the university’s actions is necessary. It is therefore right that the new acting vice-chancellor of the university has asked Sir David Melville to conduct such a review, which will investigate all aspects of what happened, including issues of governance.

I thank the Minister for his answer, but what happened at London Met is a national scandal. Is he aware that dozens of other higher education institutions are facing significant budget deficits next year? According to the funding council, seven higher education institutions are already described as at high risk of financial failure, including London Met and Thames Valley university in my constituency. According to sources at the funding council, that could increase to as many as 30 next year. Can the Minister confirm the scale of the financial crisis and tell the House exactly what he will do about it?

With due respect, I think that my sources at the funding council are slightly better than the hon. Gentleman’s. The situation at London Met is very serious—and extraordinary. It is not unusual for institutions to have problems during the course of a year in relation to students who drop out of courses. In that case, money has to be clawed back from the funding council. However, the scale of the problems that has been revealed at London Met is unusual. The review that is now being conducted is therefore important. The Government will look at the recommendations—

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry for taking a while to get to the Dispatch Box—there are many colleagues on the Front Bench.

London Metropolitan university offers excellent scientific research, high level science degrees and an ultra modern science centre. The Minister’s answer was not good enough because, on 20 May in a debate in Westminster Hall, following serious allegations of collusion between HEFCE and LMU over the drop-out rates, which led to the crisis, he gave a clear and unambiguous commitment to the House. He said:

“There will, of course, be an independent inquiry”.—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 20 May 2009; Vol. 492, c.457.]

When will that independent inquiry begin? The Minister has a choice: he can either confirm the inquiry or apologise for the misinformation.

The hon. Gentleman is not over the detail. There has been an independent inquiry by KPMG, commissioned by the funding council. It will report to the board of the funding council and be published in due course. Sir David Melville, the former vice-chancellor of Kent university, is undertaking another inquiry into what happened at London Met. That, too, will report in the autumn. At that point, the Government will consider the recommendations and, if there is something for us to do, we will do it.