A university spent more than £1,600 of public money on transporting its new vice chancellor’s dog from Australia to the UK, an investigation has found.
The University of Surrey paid the money as part of £15,000 relocation allowances to Professor Max Lu when he relocated his family, including their Maltese dog called Oscar, in 2016, Dispatches found.
It was among £7.8 million of public money spent by universities on expenses in a two-year-period, the Channel 4 programme will claim on Monday night.
It comes days after university workers began a month of walkouts in the latest stage of a bitter dispute over pensions.
The money was also used to pay for first-class flights and stays at five-star hotels around the world, plus £1,000-plus bills for meals at top restaurants.
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt 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.”
The University of Surrey defended the payment, saying it had paid “reasonable relocation expenses” when Prof Lu moved to the Surrey establishment from Australia, where he led the University of Queensland.
A spokesman said: “As is normal practice with the relocation of permanent staff internationally, the university paid reasonable relocation expenses for Professor Lu and his wife to move to the UK.
“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.”
Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said there needed to be greater transparency about university expenses.
He told Dispatches: “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 members 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.”
Dispatches received 198 responses from 144 universities and individual Oxford and Cambridge Colleges, with 13 more not replying to the request for information covering the period 2015 to 2017.
The £7.8 million averages just under £20,000 per year institution, though they vary widely in terms of staff and student numbers.
As well as trips and fine dining, money was also spent on a £110 Fortnum & Mason hamper, an artwork costing £1,300 and a £32.50 set of Laura Ashley mugs, dispatches said.
The highest-spending university was Southampton, the programme will claim, with a bill of £397,497, or 43 years worth of the £9,250 per annum cost of tuition for undergraduates.
A Southampton spokesman said the definition of senior management “varies hugely between universities” and its FOI response to Dispatches “appears to include more members of staff than some other universities”.
He added: “The legitimate and carefully scrutinised expenses, referred to by Dispatches and covering a two-year period by 17 key academic leaders and senior management, were an essential and appropriate investment in the University’s UK and global partnerships and research.”
Dispatches will say one vice chancellor, Professor Steve West, of the Bristol-based University of the West of England, spent £43,000 in 18 months.
This included £10,000 over 18 months on executive chauffeur-driven cars, mainly taking him to and from London.
Sonia Mills, chairwoman of UWE’s board of governors, defended Prof West, saying his other roles, including as a board member for the Office for Students and Higher Education Funding Council for England required him to travel.
She added: “His work in the higher education sector at a national level, the relationships this builds with business and industry leaders and the Government all bring benefits to students and the university.
“We are concerned that the conclusions Dispatches has made present an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of the University and the way it conducts its finances.”
– Dispatches – Britain’s University Spending Scandal – is broadcast on Monday February 26 at 8pm on Channel 4.