Union calls on Edinburgh Uni to ‘find a different use’ for Principal’s house money

‘Hardship for us, handouts for them. Enough is Enough!’

A union representing workers at Edinburgh University has called on it to “find a different use” for the money it spends on the maintenance of its Principal’s home.

The University and College Union’s (UCU) Edinburgh branch has told The Edinburgh Tab that despite staff getting real-terms pay cuts and the ongoing student housing crisis, “there seems to always be money for senior perks”.

It follows recent revelations that Edinburgh University spent nearly £18,000 on the maintenance of Principal Peter Mathieson’s £1.75 million central Edinburgh townhouse last year. All utility bills are paid by the uni (£5,800 for gas and electricity), as well as £300 on AGA servicing and £1,745 on cleaning and gardening.

UCU says the university should react to the “outcry” that has followed the story by finding a different use for the money that recognises why such a reaction has occurred.

The University of Edinburgh says in addition to serving as Mathieson’s personal home, it is used “as a venue for hosting formal university events, and as such, the institution covers fuel costs and costs for maintaining the building”.

The UCU has coordinated numerous teaching strikes in recent years, in response to real-terms pay cuts and the so-called increasing casualisation of work.

Speaking to The Edinburgh Tab, Grant Buttars, UCU Edinburgh Branch President and Communications Officer said: “Staff get 35% pensions cuts and repeated real-terms pay cuts. Students have nowhere to live.  Yet, there seems to always be money for senior perks.  Our VC even gets his fuel bills and Council Tax paid!

“Hardship for us, handouts for them – it’s not on.  Enough is Enough!“Perhaps the University should now reflect on the outcry this revelation has generated and find a different use for that money that recognises why”.

Responding to the intervention, a spokesperson for The University of Edinburgh said: “In common with most other universities, accommodation for the University of Edinburgh’s Principal and their immediate family is provided as part of the role. The Principal’s residence is not used solely as a family home but also frequently as a venue for hosting formal university events, and as such, the institution covers fuel costs and costs for maintaining the building. The residence is used for official events to welcome international guests and dignitaries which strengthens the University’s global reputation and increases our partnerships and potential funding streams.

“The Principal’s current residence was a gift donated to the University in 2015. The University and the donor agreed that the funding released from the sale of the previous residence would be allocated to create an endowment for access bursaries for students.

“We are acutely aware of the issues facing some of our students, and have significantly increased our hardship funding to provide more support to those who are experiencing financial difficulties. To protect students from rising bills, we have chosen to not increase prices for our accommodation since rent levels were agreed in November 2021. Our students pay a standard rent that includes all utilities and the University has absorbed recent additional costs; our rental rates remain some of the lowest in the sector.

“All students who met the requirements of our accommodation guarantee have been offered a place in University residences this year. We have also been in a position to provide offers of accommodation to more than 2,700 students over and above our guaranteed places.”

Featured image: UCU Edinburgh

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