Food, plate
Living the high life. Source: Shutterstock

United Kingdom university heads have been enjoying first-class air travel, five-star hotels and fine dining on their school’s expense, an investigation by TV station Channel 4 has found.

In the span of two years, an estimated GBP8 million has been put on schools’ tab by the top brass in UK’s higher education sector, now rocked by a massive nationwide protest by lecturers over proposed cuts to their pension scheme, The Guardian reported. Among the “galling” and “toxic” items claimed by the universities’ top management were for several lavish trips to Asia.

These include a GBP3,107.54 claim for a five-night stay at the five-star Mandarin hotel in Singapore by University of Sheffield’s vice-chancellor Sir Keith Burnett and his wife.

Burnett is also the overall biggest-spending vice-chancellor on hotels, with GBP24,433 spent in 2015/16, according to a University and College Union (UCU) report.

Another claim was for GBP5,187.33 by Professor Graham Galbraith, vice-chancellor of the University of Portsmouth, for flights and a four-night stay at the five-star Intercontinental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Galbraith is also on UCU’s list of Top 20 spenders on airfare.

Both Sheffield and Portsmouth have been found to have among the highest ratios of vice-chancellors’ total pay bill to all-staff salaries as well, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data for 2014/15.

Putting these lavish expenses on universities’ tab reflect the “corporatisation of higher education”, according to Professor Roger Brown, a former vice-chancellor.

A premier chauffeur service. Source: Shutterstock

Other lavish items vice-chancellors spent on include: GBP1,600 to relocate a pet dog from Australia to Britain, GBP440 for dinner for five at a two-Michelin-star restaurant in New York, GBP2,000 for a lunch with a GBP405 drinks bill on top and GBP10,000 on a premier chauffeur service.

These expenses are revealed at a time when the vice-chancellors are under criticism for their fat pay cheques, while lecturers’ salaries have fallen in real terms and students are paying are paying up to GBP9,250 a year in annual fees.

Vice-chancellors’ total pay was found to be an average of GBP268,103 in salary, bonuses and benefits in the most recently reported financial year 2016-17, according to a Times Higher Education survey. The highest-earning was GBP808,000 by Christina Slade of Bath Spa University, a 154.1 percent increase from the year before.

Sally Hunt, general secretary for the UCU, which represents the striking lecturers and staff, blasted the expenses revealed:

“A university isn’t about first-class travel. It’s not about posh restaurants. It’s about brilliant people, it’s about learning and it’s about a team environment.”

The union is in the midst of a 14-day protest against their employers who are planning to make changes to their pension scheme. Lecturers stand to lose an estimated GBP10,000 per year or about GBP200,000 in total.

The union has pointed out the stark contrast between the excessive pay vice-chancellors receive, which are 6.5 times the average pay of staff, according to a report by UCU on the pay and perks received by university senior management released last week.

Hunt said: “Those at the very top in our universities need to rein in the largesse that embarrasses the sector and the government needs to enforce proper scrutiny of their pay and perks.”

“Telling staff that there is no money for pay rises while signing off golden goodbyes worth a quarter of a million pounds or handing out pay rises in excess of 10 percent to 23 university heads is quite outrageous.”

*At the time of publication, GBP1 = US$1.40

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