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Report reveals university heads' perks and lack of transparency at Scottish universities

9 February 2016 | last updated: 15 February 2016

University bosses in Scotland were amongst the top claimers in the UK for expenses including air travel and exclusive hotel accommodation.

A report released today by UCU also showed that universities are still failing to disclose information willingly with two universities refusing to respond to the union's FOI request at all, two using exemptions in legislation to withhold information and a further six redacting the information sent.
The report shows that the top spender in the UK on airfares was Strathclyde University's Professor Sir Jim McDonald who racked up costs of £41,891 on flights in 2014/15. Not far behind was Glasgow Caledonian University's Professor Pamela Gillies. She was the second top spender in the UK with £39,509 being spent on air travel. Scotland was also represented in the UK top 20 by Glasgow University's Professor Anton Muscatelli (£31,300) and Edinburgh's Professor Tim O'Shea (£26,268).
Professor Gillies also managed to spend more than any other principal or vice-chancellor in the UK on hotel accommodation. The Glasgow Caledonian principal managed to spend a remarkable £19,864 on hotel accommodation. The same sum could pay to stay for over a month and half (47 nights) in the exclusive Executive King Room at the five star Ritz Hotel in London. Other big spenders included Professor Muscatelli (£9048), Professor Sir Jim McDonald (£6764), Professor O'Shea (£6146), Napier University's Professor Andrea Nolan (£5963) and Stirling University chief Professor Gerry McCormac (£5695).
The report also showed how much well paid managers were spending on buying in management advice from outside consultants. Heriot Watt University led the way in Scotland spending £2 million on management consultancy fees - amongst the highest figures in the UK. Glasgow Caledonian University also spent over £1 million. They were joined in the UK top 50 by RGU in Aberdeen, the University of the West of Scotland, Abertay, and Napier universities.
The union's report also highlighted the lack of transparency in the way universities reward their senior managers. Of 18 institutions asked under freedom of information legislation to release details of their senior pay and expenses, two (Aberdeen University and SRUC) did not respond to the enquiry at all and two (the University of the West of Scotland and Napier University) used exemptions in the legislation to withhold information. A further six redacted the information they returned.
Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official, said: 'Normally we're proud of our universities in Scotland being at the top of league tables. But these are tables of shame, and with Scottish university leaders heading up the UK list of spending on flights and accommodation they should hang their heads. As importantly, we're still seeing a lack of openness from universities on how they disclose how they spend their money.
'Given that over a billion pounds of public money is handed to universities from the Scottish Government annually the least we should be able to expect is that they comply with the legislation around freedom of information. Having elected chairs of governing bodies, elected by all staff and students, as proposed in the governance bill would be small step toward making universities more democratic and transparent. Rather than spending time and resources trying to fight the bill university principals should get their own house in order.'