For students fighting for refunds from their Universities for failure to provide lectures and access to facilities during the UCU Strike Action earlier this year, the news that over the past two years, employees at 54 universities spent £204m on corporate credit cards to buy everything from Premier League tickets to days out at the races, will be particularly difficult to swallow.
In response to a Freedom of Information Request sent to Universities across the country by The Sun newspaper, the Universities were compelled to come clean about accounting details which would otherwise not see the light of day.
Examples of the information obtained through the FOI includes the following details:
- Durham University: staff spent £17m, including £2,614 at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas;
- Northumbria University: staff spent £2,184 on a "corporate event" at the lapdancing club chain Spearmint Rhino;
- Liverpool University: staff spent £22,000 at Domino's Pizza; and
- University of London: staff spent £23,790 bill in two pubs.
These examples of Universities apparently wasting large sums of money on luxuries that have nothing to do with the services that they are chartered and funded to provide will also cause alarm to lecturers who felt compelled to strike in response to proposed changes to their pension schemes which, some reports suggest, could leave lecturers up to £10,000 per year poorer in retirement.
These recent disclosures have caught the attention of the government and powerful lobby groups with John O'Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, saying "taxpayers and students will foot most of the bill for these questionable purchases. They deserve a clear explanation. Students will be appalled at how little universities seem to care about their money."
Tory MP Andrew Bridgen also criticised the institutions. He said: "Universities are now big businesses and appear to have picked up some bad habits. They should have to publish these spending records annually."
Indeed, a University that can afford expenses up to £17m on gambling and lap dancers - but which refuses to pay students compensation when they do not get the benefit of the services for which they have paid, and which claims it has insufficient funds to meet pension deficits - either has some serious accounting questions to answer, or has become shamefully detached from its fundamental purpose, to educate those students who pay more than ever before for their education.