Following two years of research and hundreds of freedom of information requests (FOIs), Channel 4’s Dispatches programme uncovered the extraordinary sums of money paid as expenses to Britain’s university vice chancellors.
Given the ongoing strikes by lecturers over drastic changes to their pensions, as well as the large fees paid by students, the tendency for university chancellors to claim expenses for luxuries such as trips to the Caribbean, five-star hotels, Fortnum and Mason hampers and “porn-star martinis” have sparked controversy.
Vice chancellors claim that an important aspect of their job is promoting the interests of their university nationally and internationally, and that they shouldn’t be expected to foot the bill for their travel and accommodation themselves.
However, the expenses of university senior management teams has sparked outrage because, in many cases, universities appear to be reimbursing staff for luxuries that have little to do with their professional roles within universities. These luxuries include £10,000 on an executive chauffeur service and a £32.50 pair of Laura Ashley mugs.
The £400,000 spent on expenses by the senior management of the University of Southampton could have funded a year of tuition for 43 three students. Statistics like this pose the question, are British universities run in the best interests of students, or the best interests of senior management?
The University of Leeds was one of only 13 universities which refused to release details of the expenses of its senior management team, although it has since released a breakdown of Vice Chancellor Alan Langland’s expenses claims.
The Gryphon has found that, in the 2016/17 academic year, Mr Langlands claimed £13,926.37 on expenses. The majority of this total was spent on travel, including flights to the US and China.
A Leeds University spokesperson said:
“All staff are entitled to claim reasonable expenses when on University business. The Vice-Chancellor’s expenses reflect the commitments of the head of a global university, such as meeting potential international donors and setting up overseas partnerships.
“Examples include our joint school with Southwest Jiaotong University in China, where students will earn dual degrees from both universities, or our successful £60 million pound alumni fundraising campaign, which is now funding life-changing research, scholarships and widening participation initiatives. The Vice-Chancellor plays an absolutely vital role in securing these opportunities.”
The figures published by the University of Leeds show that Mr Langlands spent £1927.30 on a flight from San Francisco to New York. Similar flights are available online at a day’s notice for around £250, the most expensive first class tickets costing around £1000.
A University of Leeds spokesperson said:
“This was a flight to a meeting that could only be scheduled nearer the time due to the availability of those attending – this inevitably meant the price was higher as a result, reflecting prices available at the time.
“As any analysis of the Vice-Chancellor’s published expenses shows, this item does not represent typical travel costs – the Vice-Chancellor’s office always seeks to keep costs down, for example taking advantage of frequent traveller discounts.”
Ian White and Philippa Humphreys