After a two year battle, last week Salford University finally released accounts for 'operating expenses' for the year 2007-08. The information was originally requested by a former student under the Freedom of Information Act in November 2009. Some of the statistics are enlightening. Incredibly in one year alone the University spent in the region of £33.644million in 'operating expenses'.
The Salford Star can see why University bosses fought tooth and nail to suppress the information. Figures show that during 2007-08, when University bosses made the decision to axe 150 academic and teaching jobs to save around £12.5million pounds, they decided to spend around a third of this amount - £3.961 million - on consultancy fees!
"I submitted a Freedom of Information Request asking for this expenses data in 2009. Having originally been labelled by the University as a 'vexatious requester', I have had to engage in a two year legal battle with the University and the Information Commissioner's Office in order to secure the release of this data." says Damien Shannon who made the request.
"Assessing the usefulness of this expenditure will be much more difficult" he adds "The University have asked me to pay the princely sum of almost £300 pounds to see detailed financial records of the transactions incorporated into what are still quite broad accounting codes. This will be necessary before a more informed judgement can fairly be reached about the sums of money being spent in any particular area." .
Does this indicate a new culture of fiscal restraint at the University or is it simply a mechanism to stop the public seeing precisely who has spent what?
The Salford Star has had its own FOI battles with the University over Salford's rental costs at MediaCityUK, currently running at £2.125 million a year, which the University was also forced to disclose by the Information Commissioner (see here). Even the MediaCity rental costs at £40,867 a week, are dwarfed by the £76,175 spent on average every week of the year in 2007-08 on consultants.
It would also appear from the accounts that Salford students from lower incomes or struggling to make ends meet at Salford took a back seat to consultants. While the University handed over just under £4million to these consultancies, it spent only £3.386million on student bursaries. Bursaries are a type of grant paid by the University to students on low incomes, or from disadvantaged backgrounds or those who are struggling to pay University fees.
These figures will provide no comfort to former Salford student Michael Hill, jailed this week for three years after attempted armed robbery on a Co-op store in order to pay off students debts. It's reported that Hill who had an 'impeccable record', became desperate after receiving threatening legal letters from the University over unpaid fees. He was also turfed out of his student accommodation because of unpaid debts to the University's Accommodation Services after he'd lost his job (see here).
"Given that we've dropped to 109th in the Guardian University league rankings begs the question, `Is this really the best value for taxpayers and students?'" said an angry staff member who asked not to be indentified "Spending by senior managers seems to be out of control at Salford and there's no external oversight. Even MPs had to answer to Parliament for their scandalous expenses.
"They can spend huge sums on whatever they like, nobody is held to account and then we're told we have to sacrifice our jobs" he added "It's appalling."
The release of these extraordinary costs comes immediately after the criticism directed at University bosses for spending £170,000 to add the word 'MANCHESTER' to the existing three words 'University of Salford' on the University's 'logo' - seen by many as a snub to the city of Salford and to University staff, who are again facing massive job losses (see here)
It is not known whether University bosses will now make available the equivalent accounts for 2008-09 and 2009-10 without the need for another expensive and unnecessary battle with the ICO. Watch this space for more revelations.
Words by Daniel T Rhead.
SEE PART TWO HERE - TRAVEL COSTS AND PLANTS!