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EXCLUSIVE: VC expenses laid bare

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The head of the University of Leeds has spent thousands of pounds of University money on staying in five-star hotels, traveling across the globe, and dining in some of the world’s most high-end restaurants, exclusive information has revealed.

The Vice-Chancellor (VC) Michael Arthur has racked up just under £42,000 of expenses over the past three years, a bill picked up by University finances and partly funded by students’ tuition fees.

Professor Arthur’s expenses are not easily available to the public and it took a Freedom of Information request before such details were disclosed to Leeds Student.

The expenses report shows that the VC has spent thousands of pounds over the course of three years staying in luxury hotels whilst on business trips. Several of the hotels cost hundreds of pounds a night, including the five-star Sofitel St James hotel which cost the University £727.88 for the Vice-Chancellor’s two night stay in the heritage grade II listed building in London.

On another occasion, £265.38 was paid for Professor Arthur to spend a night at The Chesterfield Mayfair Hotel whilst attending a meeting with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. The hotel’s website describes itself as a place where guests can ‘live like royalty.’

Leeds Student has also discovered that the Vice-Chancellor lives in a rent-free flat paid for by the University. The free accommodation is part of the Vice-Chancellor’s benefits which also include free healthcare and altogether total £7,000 per year. This is on top of an annual salary of £253,000.

In the 2009/10 financial year the VC also received £59,000 in ‘employer contributions to defined benefit scheme’.

Professor Arthur has repeatedly claimed that he earns less than the Prime Minister yet according to the Prime Minister earns a basic salary of £142,500 – £110,500 less than our Vice-Chancellor. Even when the Prime Minister’s additional MP salary of £65,738 is added to this, the total still comes to less than the VC’s basic salary.

A University spokesperson said that the Vice-Chancellor donates £5,000 of his personal money each year to the Annual Alumni Fund.

The VC travelled frequently between 2007-10 visiting Hong Kong, New York, Sydney, Toronto and Amsterdam, amongst other major cities across the world. A University spokesperson said that forging closer relations with alumni is an important part of the VC’s role, which entails “regular travel around the UK and increasingly overseas”, with costs incurred through “business-related entertainment and accommodation”.

The spokesperson added: “[The VC] has personally spearheaded a campaign to raise £60m in donations for the University over the next five years.” However, in a time of economising and budget cuts, the spokesperson could not explain why such trips could not be prevented with video conferencing.

Although the expenses’ report lists only two flights being paid for by the University, a full account was given for other forms of travel. In one month alone the VC spent £562.09 on taxis in the UK, USA and Australia in April 2009. A further £167 was spent on a National Express train journey in February 2009. The University would not confirm whether the VC travels by first class however.

Professor Arthur also frequently claims expenses on ‘refreshments’ whilst travelling by train. The sum of £3.50 for refreshments was claimed back by the VC during a National Express train trip he took between meetings on 25 April 2008. The University would not explain why the VC could not have paid for this sum with his own money.

Travelling across the globe, the VC has also eaten with potential donors at some of the most exclusive restaurants in the world, all paid for with University’s expenses. £390 was spent on a meal at the illustrious Cirque Restaurant in which all men are required to wear dinner jackets, on October 2008.

Closer to home, accounts show the VC repeatedly wining and dining multi-millionaires at the Leeds restaurant Anthonys, the high end Brasserie Forty 4, and Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc. A University spokesperson said: “The Vice-Chancellor’s personal standing is critical to donors’ willingness to support the University. So far donors have contributed £14m, demonstrating their confidence in the University’s leadership and ambition.”

When told of Leeds Student’s findings Leeds University Union’s Communications and Internal Affairs Officer (CIA), Rachel Wenstone, said: “Our main concern about University funding is, and remains, quality for students.

We know that nationally, many students are not happy with the quality of education being received for the fees they are paying. The cost of gaining a degree is already a huge burden, so it is essential that we are told how every penny of our money is being spent. This is the only way that the University can be held to account.

In the coming weeks, when the new tuition fee levels are set, it will be more important than ever that University finances are completely transparent. Potential applicants must be allowed to make informed decisions on where to study based on how their money will be spent.”

A University spokesperson said: “The Vice-Chancellor’s chairmanship of the Russell Group has coincided with the biggest upheaval in higher education for decades. He has consistently made the case publicly and privately that universities like Leeds must be properly funded despite cuts to public spending if they are to continue to deliver first-class learning and teaching for students.”

UPDATE: The University has asked that Leeds Student publishes its full response to our questions. Please see the University’s full statement below.

“The University of Leeds is a complex and increasingly international organisation with an ambition to secure a place among the world’s top 50 universities by 2015.

Forging closer relations with alumni is an important part of the Vice-Chancellor’s role and he personally spearheads the Campaign to raise £60m through donations over the next five years. This entails regular travel around the UK and increasingly overseas, and costs are incurred through business-related entertainment and accommodation.

The Vice-Chancellor also chairs the Russell Group and has previously held roles directly related to his work at Leeds with the World Universities Network, and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Again, these roles require travel and overnight stays.

The Vice-Chancellor’s personal standing is critical to donors’ willingness to support the University. So far donors have contributed £14m, demonstrating their confidence in the University’s leadership and ambition. Of the £14m, £11m was donated specifically for student-centred projects, including the construction of the Marjorie and Arnold Ziff Building, which houses the Student Services Centre; and the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery.

More than £1m has been raised through the Annual Alumni Fund and already invested in students. The money has been spent on scholarships to enable students who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to come to Leeds to do so and on schemes including Leeds for Life, buying more books for the library, improvements to campus facilities and a student hardship fund. It also supports volunteering work, which enables students to devote more of their time to worthy projects in the community rather than to part-time jobs. Our alumni also act as mentors to current students, helping establish internship opportunities and placements. The Vice-Chancellor himself donates £5,000 each year to the Annual Alumni Fund.

The Vice-Chancellor’s chairmanship of the Russell Group has coincided with the biggest upheaval in higher education for decades. He has consistently made the case publicly and privately that universities like Leeds must be properly funded despite cuts to public spending if they are to continue to deliver first-class learning and teaching for students.


The University initiated an economies exercise in October 2009 to make savings in preparation of cuts to funding, and – particularly given the current financial climate – every effort is made to avoid any profligacy. In 2009/10, the total amount reclaimed by the Vice-Chancellor or spent by the Vice-Chancellor on his University credit card was £14,000, which is relatively modest given his commitment to the Campaign and other external roles.

Key facts:

  • The Vice-Chancellor’s current salary package places him 24th in the UK*, after leaders of other universities, including Leeds Metropolitan University, Northumbria University and the University of Bristol.
  • The Vice-Chancellor’s salary is £253k. He and other members of the senior management team voluntarily chose not to take a pay rise in 2009 or 2010.
  • The Vice-Chancellor is a member of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and his pension contributions are paid at the same rate as for other academic and related staff. In 2009/10, the University contributed £59k.  He also receives healthcare benefits provided by the University, which cost £918 in 2009/10. The total value of benefits in kind, including accommodation and healthcare, was assessed for tax purposes in 2009/10 was £7k.
  • A rent-free flat is provided for the Vice-Chancellor’s use, as is customary for many other universities and similar institutions. The flat is also used for official University business such as meeting alumni and funders. The Vice-Chancellor pays his own bills including Council Tax and utilities.

*Table of Vice-Chancellors’ salaries for 2008-9, published by the THE in April 2010.”

4 Responses to EXCLUSIVE: VC expenses laid bare

  1. Pingback: Strike! « Really Open University

  2. Lecturer March 15, 2011 at 15:42

    If a convincing case can be made that his actions, personally and primarily, have been instrumental in raising £14m in donations so far, then £14k in expenses a year is not that unreasonable. Even travelling economy class and staying in places that are only one notch up from a motel, a single conference trip overseas can easily cost £1,500 to £2k, especially if it’s in an expensive city. Any successful academic in a research-active university should be making at least 2-3 such trips a year, from which, incidentally, students indirectly benefit, through being taught by lecturers who are keeping up to date with and contributing to the cutting edge of their subjects. The leader of such a university should be making his presence felt in international fora, and I’ve got no problem with Arthur doing so. And the taxi bills might seem profligate at first sight, but if you’re paying someone £200 an hour to use their talents to lead an organisation with an economy the size of that of a medium-sized town, you don’t want them wasting that time waiting for buses.

    As for the £3.50 refreshments on the train, it was insensitive for him to claim that given the size of his salary, but how do you legislate for that? Do you have different rules as to what staff travelling on UoL business can and can’t claim for based on the size of their salary? Being totally fair, if you’re going to say that the V-C can’t claim for a cup of tea and biscuits, then you’d also have to ban the grade 7 junior lecturer on £30k and still paying off massive student debts (i.e. me) from doing so.

    However, staying in a £265 a night hotel for a London meeting is totally outrageous, given that (i) it is perfectly possible to attend a London meeting from Leeds in a day without staying overnight at all (I have done this many times), and (ii) there are perfectly reasonable hotels in central London for around the £100 mark. And the rent free flat is also unacceptable. If he chooses to have his main home in Southampton and live in Leeds, that’s his choice. but he should meet the cost of that. I live in Whitby, mainly due to family caring responsibilities, and the time and cost of commuting is a major problem for me. But no-one forced me to take a job in Leeds, and the same applies to the V-C, too.

  3. Paul March 13, 2011 at 01:27

    Well I hate to say it but, if you want the best talent… For someone for whom a large part of their job is raising money for the university, meeting captains of industry and key business and educational figures etc etc, I think these expenses are entirely reasonable as they were generated through him performing his work…

  4. reader March 12, 2011 at 01:42

    The annual return from ‘meeting potential donors’ would obliterate the expenses. There’s going to have to be more of it now with cuts on public funding.

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