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Plymouth University under fire over £150,000 bill for seven chairs

19 September 2014

'Incredible' bill for seven chairs follows increased expenses for bosses, almost £1m extra spent on marketing and £24,000 on a trip to Miami for six senior staff

Plymouth University has been criticised for spending £150,000 on seven chairs for graduation ceremonies. UCU said the decision exposed just how out of touch senior managers were.

In emails to staff, the university's deputy vice-chancellor, Professor David Coslett, defended the specially designed high-end furniture describing the chairs as 'a symbol of success' and saying they will mark Plymouth's transition into 'a dynamic 21st century university.' Despite the criticism, Coslett said that he was confident that 'time will judge this to have been a great decision.'

UCU regional official Nick Varney said: 'Splashing out £150,000 on seven chairs really is quite extraordinary. It is even more incredible when you consider that financial problems have been given as a reason for job cuts. If the university needs to save money it should look at its travel and expenses bills, and cut down on chairs.

'Anyone who thinks chairs are a symbol of success is more out of touch than we originally feared and should probably not be running a university. A successful university is one where staff are well supported and students receive a quality education - chairs simply don't come into it.

'We are concerned about the reputational damage this latest extravagance may do. Staff do not want to see their hard work undermined by money being wasted on unnecessary lavish items - money that should be spent on employing staff and improving the student experience. No student has ever chosen a university because of its chairs.'

The latest lavish expenditure comes after the university's travel bill shot up by £800,000 last year and it spent an extra £1.2m on consultancy fees, taking the total up to almost £6m. The university's financial report documented that 'other expenses' had gone up by more than half from £6,727,000 to £10,352,000, and almost an extra £1m was spent on advertising and marketing.

Earlier this month it was revealed that Plymouth spent more than £24,000 sending six members of staff to a conference in Miami earlier this year. The group included the currently suspended vice-chancellor Wendy Purcell, who is apparently aware of the purchase of the chairs.

Last updated: 12 March 2019