First-class expenses at Plymouth University

While students are forced to take part-time jobs to help pay their way through university, some of the top staff at Plymouth University are enjoying the high-life at the expense of the taxpayer – including first class rail travel, designer chairs and a trip to Miami.

Over the past three years, Plymouth University’s vice chancellor has spent almost £15,000 on first class train travel. That’s been calculated to work out at an average of one first class journey every eight days. These include a trip on the Eurostar to Paris at £311.50 and numerous return journeys between London and Plymouth, each costing £242.00.

“While we understand that from time to time there will be a need to travel by train,” says a regional University and College Union spokesperson, “first-class journeys every eight days for three years does seem excessive, particularly at a time when the university was making staff redundant because of the need to make savings.”

But this is not the only cost to the taxpayer of vice chancellor Wendy Purcell, who is currently suspended from her top post, on full pay of £288,000, while being investigated over her recent conduct. A boardroom row involving a previous chairman and the vice chancellor has seen legal costs skyrocket to over £150,000 for seven months’ work. At one point, the university was footing the bill for £27,000 of legal advice for Purcell.

Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, news emerged that the scandal-hit Plymouth University has spent £150,000 on seven chairs, designed by top craftsman John Makepeace, for its graduation ceremonies, while a further £24,000 has been spent on sending six members of staff to Miami for a conference. All this against a background of threatened job cuts at the university.

“Ultimately, this is not about ‘chairs’ but a collection of contemporary design pieces by one of the world’s leading furniture designers,” says Plymouth’s deputy vice chancellor. “Even before launching the project publicly, the works have attracted the attention of one major museum which is interested in adding to its contemporary design collection.”

“No student has ever chosen a university because of its chairs,” says the baffled local Union rep. Students and low-paid college workers will need a sit down.

Tim Newark is the South-West Coordinator of the TaxPayers’ Alliance

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