Seven university education departments are to be investigated by the Teacher Training Agency because it suspects them of sidestepping the new funding arrangements for in-service training courses.
One of them is the London Institute of Education, which, like some others on the list, has consistently challenged the drive to bring teacher education under Government control.
The move follows the news that 36 higher education institutions are losing substantial amounts of money under the new bidding process. Some, such as the Open University, face the end of in-service training. In some areas, teachers will have no professional development courses within reach.
The agency confirmed this week that seven institutions have been warned that they are to be audited in order to find out why some of their education courses are still being funded by the Higher Education Funding Council. Who is to conduct this audit and when are still unclear, the agency admits.
The universities are furious at what they see as a threat to their autonomy and a further attempt to separate teacher education from higher education.
Last year, the TTA was made responsible for funding courses aimed exclusively at teachers. Providers now have to bid for the money, demonstrating that courses fit in with Government priorities and will help raise standards.
The seven institutions have argued that some or all of their courses are intended for teachers and others to pursue intellectual interests rather than being exclusively concerned with practical classroom skills. They should therefore be funded by the HEFC, they say. The institutions concerned include Durham, Exeter, Brunel, and Sheffield universities, King's College, London, and the London Institute. The identity of the seventh has not been confirmed.
Mike Mercer of the TTA said: "It should not be open to any institution to decide whether it is going on the HEFC side or the TTA side." The audit would find out whether there had been a genuine misunderstanding or whether they had been motivated by "an unwillingness to expose themselves to the more rigorous funding criteria of the TTA", he added.
Dr Peter Gilroy, deputy editor of the Journal of Teacher Education and an academic at Sheffield, said: "The TTA has in effect told us we are lying. This is the final straw in the campaign to take teacher education out of university education departments."
School Management, page 31