When representing their universities, vice-chancellors are sometimes required to attend external functions and meetings related to their role. But such activities do not necessitate the leasing or buying of high-end vehicles to transfer around university leaders on campuses or elsewhere. Most business leaders or heads of large organisations use private means of transport, or simply utilise the public transport network.
Although a growing proportion of universities’ income is derived from tuition fees, £3.7 billion was given to English universities by funding councils in 2019-20. Due to non-repayment, taxpayers will end up paying for an estimated 47 per cent of student maintenance loans.
Universities should encourage vice-chancellors (or other senior staff) to use their own methods of transport and sell off any excess vehicles. With vice chancellors’ salaries averaging over £250,000 - and with at least 3,615 staff across 120 universities receiving over £100,000 in total remuneration last year - such action would be welcomed by students and taxpayers alike.
Between April 2016 and March 2019:
- 29 universities spent a total of £702,057 on vehicles for vice-chancellors or their equivalent. This includes purchases, leases, fuel, maintenance, tax and other associated costs.
- The university that spent the largest amount was Liverpool Hope, spending £70,915 on purchasing, leasing, maintenance and fuel for two Mercedes E300s.
- Universities spent £509,610 buying and leasing cars over the three-year period and £104,269 on fuel.
- The average spend on vice-chancellors’ cars for each of the 29 universities over this period was £24,518.
- Three universities (Birmingham City, Edinburgh and Liverpool) owned or leased Jaguars during this period, with Birmingham City purchasing a Jaguar LWB diesel for £40,000.
- Other luxury vehicles used by universities were Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 730, Audi A6, Lexus NX estate and Volvo V60 Sportswagon.
80 per cent of UK universities which responded did not own or lease cars for use by the vice-chancellor or equivalent senior staff.
 Bolton, P., Higher education funding in England, House of Commons Library, 16 December 2019, p. 11.
 Ibid, p. 3.
 Johnson, J., Average university vice chancellor now earns more than £250k for first time, as majority given pay rises in last year despite criticism, The Daily Telegraph, 12 February 2019.
 Hutton, J., University Rich List 2019, TaxPayers’ Alliance, 3 October 2019.