Megan Williams
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Aug, 15

University fat cat claims for £2 rail ticket

The principal of one of Scotland’s biggest universities has claimed for a slice of cake, a bottle of water and a £2 rail fare on expenses, despite earning more than a quarter of a million pounds a year.

At the other end of the scale, the expense accounts of Russell Group vice-chancellors — who act as university chief executives — reveal they have spent tens of thousands on foreign travel and luxury hotels.

The disclosures, made under the Freedom of Information Act, follow an analysis published by Times Higher Education last week that found the leaders of Britain’s top universities received average pay rises of 3.7%, despite appeals from ministers for pay restraint.

According to the annual accounts for Glasgow University, vice-chancellor Professor Anton Muscatelli was awarded £322,000, including a £46,000 pension contribution in 2015- 16. However, that did not stop him claiming for a £3.30 Starbucks coffee bought in Beijing, a £2 bottle of still water at Malmaison London, and £3.55 for coffee and cake at a Pret A Manger in Trafalgar Square, London, as part of his £7,270 expenses bill last year. He also claimed for a New York subway ticket costing $3, converted to £2.07 on his expenses return.

Muscatelli’s more extravagant claims included £1,127 for five nights at the Ritz-Carlton in Singapore. He also claimed £768 for a stay at the five-star Langham hotel in Hong Kong, which features a rooftop pool.

Sir Timothy O’Shea, the outgoing vice-chancellor of Edinburgh University, earned £289,000 last year and is provided with an executive car and driver, but still asked his university to cover a £3 parking fare and a £3.50 bus ticket.

Bristol’s vice-chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, who earns £323,000 per year, hired a suit for a white-tie event on expenses and claimed £4,400 for his business lunches. Last May staff at his university went on strike after describing their latest pay offer as an “insult”.

The biggest spender was Dame Nancy Rothwell, vice-chancellor of Manchester University, who last year claimed a total of £32,993 in expenses including £29,751.21 on travel, on top of her £275,000 pay.

None of the universities or vice-chancellors would comment directly on individual expenses. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, condemned “profligate spending” and called for a “national register of pay and perks” for university leaders. She said: “At a time when staff pay is falling in real terms, insecure contracts abound and students are being asked to fork out even more for their education, university leaders are showing a worrying lack of leadership by squandering embarrassing amounts of taxpayer money.”

Annual accounts show several Scottish principals enjoyed bumper pay rises, despite warnings that universities are at “tipping point” over funding cuts. Professor Jim McDonald, principal at Strathclyde, is Scotland’s top-earning university leader with a £366,000 pay package, including pension and benefits. His pay deal has risen by 5% since 2015.

A Strathclyde University spokeswoman said he received a 1.1% increase in salary “in line with every other member of staff at the university”.

Professor Ian Diamond, vice-chancellor of Aberdeen University, enjoyed the most extravagant pay increase, with a total package of £352,000 — up 11.39% on the £316,000 he received the previous year. His 2016 deal also included a £27,000 bonus. His remuneration is likely to anger Aberdeen staff who staged a walkout last month over the threat of job losses and £1.5m of cuts to the university’s medical school.

Professor Andrea Nolan, Edinburgh Napier University principal, accepted a bonus for the second consecutive year. Last year, she took home a £15,000 bonus, £6,000 more than her 2015 bonus. Professor Gerry McCormac, Stirling University principal, received a 3.05% rise, earning £270,000 last year, up from £262,000 in 2015, which the university said was “deemed appropriate”.

Mary Senior, Scottish official at the University and College Union, which represents lecturers, said the union will continue to campaign for “fairer pay for all staff, and a proper register of pay and perks at the top of our universities so senior pay is open and accountable”.

NUS Scotland president Vonnie Sandlan said it was “disappointing to see another year where principals’ pay is shooting up beyond inflation” while the sector faces cuts.

Russell Group director- general Dr Wendy Piatt said salaries were decided by independent committees.

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