On Monday the Sun released responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests regarding the usage of university staff expenses.
54 institutions told the Sun that since 2016, some of their staff collectively spent £204m on corporate credit cards and claimed expenses. Northumbria University’s employees spent £2,184 at the gentleman’s club Spearmint Rhino. Durham University’s employees totalled £17m which included £2,614 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. While Oxford University expressed a total spending of £11m, it would not detail individual instances of spending. The University of Bristol expressed concern that information given may cause distress to staff.
The journalist covering the investigation, Jacob Dirbhuber, told the Beaver that he submitted a request to LSE, “but sadly they didn’t give me an answer.”
The FOI procedure permits refusal to answer requests “if will cost more than £450 to find and extract the information”; if the information is “sensitive” and therefore “not available to members of the public”, although the “organisation must tell you why they cannot give you some or all of the information you requested”; or the organisation may ask for more specific questions.
According to the Sun, the 54 institutions altogether received £1.2 billion in public funds in the year 2017/18.
Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP and previous student at Nottingham University, told the Sun: “Universities are now big businesses and appear to have picked up some bad habits. They should have to publish these spending records annually.”
The Sun has stated: “Our Freedom of Information probe comes after lecturers staged a strike over pay, and some students face £38,000-a-year tuition fees.”
Earlier this year, the UCU organised the largest industrial action in higher education history against cuts to their USS pension scheme, which they said was “the biggest pay cut in higher education history”. Strikes ultimately ended in 64%-36% acceptance of the proposed deal from UUK, which is due to see the creation of a ‘Joint Expert Panel’, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both UCU and UUK.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Authority, since the trebling of university fees in 2012, in the last academic year (2016-17) budget surpluses totalled £2.27 billion across all UK universities. This is double the surplus in 2011-12. According to HESA, the reserves are indicative of the most significant change: £14.7 billion in 2011-12 and in 2016-17 £44.27 billion.