University of Surrey spends more than £1,600 on relocating vice-chancellor's pet dog

Investigation reveals that university bosses claimed almost £8m in expenses as academic staff across the country strike over pensions

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Monday 26 February 2018 15:10
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The University of Surrey paid more than £1,600 to Professor Max Lu when he relocated his family and pet dog
The University of Surrey paid more than £1,600 to Professor Max Lu when he relocated his family and pet dog

A university spent more than £1,600 of public money on relocating a vice-chancellor’s pet dog from Australia to Britain, an investigation into expense claims has revealed.

The item was among almost £8m of public money spent by university bosses and senior colleagues on expenses over the past two years, the Freedom of Information requests show.

Among the things the money was used to pay for were first class flights, five star hotels and £1,000-plus bills for meals at top restaurants, as well as artwork, Laura Ashley mugs, and a Fortnum & Mason hamper, according to an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme which will air tonight.

The expense accounts of university bosses have been uncovered as tens of thousands of academic staff at more than 60 universities continue to strike over planned cuts to pensions.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “Higher education has had to endure months of terrible headlines over the pay and perks scandals of those at the top.

”The lack of self-awareness while they feather their own nests yet hold down staff pay, use insecure contracts and try to slash pensions, is quite staggering.”

Last week, MPs on the Education Select Committee criticised some top university vice-chancellors for their “immoral” and “overinflated” salaries during a period of huge student debt.

Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons’ Education Select Committee, has said: “Those kinds of examples are pretty shocking, dare I say it being an MP, but the dog example is slightly comparable to duck houses which caused the expense scandal for Mmembers of Parliament in the first place.”

He added: “Well this is public money, and just as it’s a requirement now for MPs to publish their expenses, universities should be subject to the same procedures.”

The new Office for Students (OfS) is planning to crack down on high salaries of vice-chancellors, grade inflation and support for disadvantaged students under regulations.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Michael Barber, the chairman of the OfS, said universities would have to state the number of staff on salaries above £100,000. And he warned that failure to comply with regulations could result in universities being deregistered.

“We do have powers and we won’t flinch from using them if we need to, but we’d much rather if universities ran this regulator themselves rather than [us] having to intervene. But nobody should be under any illusions that if we need to, we will,” Mr Barber said.

The University of Surrey paid more than £1,600 to Professor Max Lu to bring his maltese dog, Oscar over from Australia in 2016 as part of a £15,000 relocation expenses claim.

But a spokesman for the university defended it as “normal practice” when relocating permanent staff internationally. “The total cost of this move was £15,000, which included shipment of personal possessions, visas, flights and the relocation of the family dog, all in accordance with HMRC guidelines,” he said.

Angela Rayner, Shadow Education Secretary, said: ”It’s just not good enough. The next Labour government will set a clear limit on vice-chancellors’ pay packets, stop them setting their own salaries and scrap student fees entirely.“

Additional reporting from PA

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