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Revealed: ‘Out of touch’ Sheffield Uni bosses rack up £280k expenses in two years

They’re blasted for ‘shaming’ higher education


Bosses at the University of Sheffield are facing intense criticism for being “out of touch” after they claimed £280,000 expenses in two years.

The institution’s vice-chancellor Koen Lamberts and his senior deputies racked up an £89,000 bill in the last academic year alone, globe-trotting in planes and staying in luxury hotels.

New figures obtained by The Tab Sheffield uncover a catalogue of expenses claims filed by the University Executive Board (UEB). Formed of the institution’s 13 most senior staff, the UEB has spent £279,580.83 through expenses and the university credit card since September 2017.

The huge bill surfaces days after 40,000 lecturers at Sheffield and 59 other universities nationwide went on strike over insecure pay contracts and pensions. The University and College Union (UCU) today accuses Lamberts and the UEB of “shaming” the higher education sector.

The university defended the figures, insisting many were for academic conferences. However, only £63,000 of the £280,000 were listed as “academic-related expenses” in accounts, with the rest opaquely labelled “UEB role-related expenses”.

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Koen Lamberts, vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield

The accounts show VC Lamberts filed more than £7,000 of expenses claims in the nine months after he entered his post last November, including £4,300 for hotels and £2,200 for flights to destinations including China, Malaysia and the United States. His predecessor, Sir Keith Burnett, made £46,000 expenses claims in 2017-2018.

The Tab Sheffield can reveal that in Easter 2019, Lamberts, who is paid £285,000 a year, spent thousands on a return flight to San Francisco for an alumni board event, fully expensed and stayed in a luxury hotel. The university defended the trip when questioned.

The UEB member with the highest claims was David Petley, vice-president for research and innovation, who spent more than £51,000 by university credit card and expenses between 2017 and 2019. Last year he spent £17,863, including £6,429 travelling to hotels in Australia and New Zealand twice, and one to Chile.

Professor Dame Pamela Shaw, the recently departed chief of the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health, spent £40,000 on a lavish lifestyle in two years, including £6,000 for food and hotels, and £1,319 for “hospitality”.

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The Croft, a luxury 20th century townhouse that the VC lived in for free

Figures released under freedom of information laws show that UEB members also splashed out more than £25,000 on two chauffeur cars between 2017 and 2019. VC Lamberts made 118 trips, while deputy vice-chancellor Gill Valentine made 70. Destinations included Birmingham Airport twice, two cars to London, two to Heathrow and three to Manchester Airport.

This is despite Lamberts declaring a “climate emergency” in September and rolling out compulsory climate change lectures for every student.

As The Tab Sheffield revealed in October, Lamberts lived in The Croft, a university-owned mansion in the leafy Ranmoor suburb of the city, during his first six months in charge. Despite his salary, his rent and bills were fully covered by the university.

Today we can further reveal that £23,000 of university funds were forked out renovating the mansion while he lived there, including £400 refurbishing an electric garage door and £123 on a new coat rail. He moved out in April and pays rent for student accommodation, the university said.

The accounts only show the totals, £190,000 in 2017-18 and £90,000 in 2018-2019, in the broad categories “accommodation”, “travel”, “hospitality” and “conferences”. Almost £6,000 are labelled simply as “other”.

The shocking figures come in the same two years that around 800 lecturers and staff at Sheffield launched two bouts of industrial action over increased pension contributions, flexible and zero-hours contracts, and the sector's gender pay gap.

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Thousands of staff at universities nationwide went on strike last week

Presented with our findings, UCU general secretary Jo Grady hit out at University of Sheffield bosses’ spending.

She told The Tab Sheffield: “UCU members at 60 universities have had to take eight days of strike action because of what is happening to their pay, pensions and conditions.

“They will not be lectured on the need for restraint by out of touch vice-chancellors whose own record on pay and perks has shamed the higher education sector.

“The expense accounts, chauffeurs and free accommodation enjoyed by senior leaders only highlight the disconnect between a few at the top and the rest of the sector, and remind us why staff have been forced to take strike action.”

Following a month of disruption to teaching in February 2018, UCU members launched a further eight days of industrial action two weeks ago amid an ongoing row with vice-chancellors’ representative Universities UK. Ballots are taking place for further strikes in the New Year.

Last year former Sheffield vice-chancellor Sir Keith Burnett came under fire for claiming almost £50,000 expenses in one year, spending £3,107.54 on a five night stay for him and his wife at the five-star Mandarin hotel in Singapore.

The University of Sheffield insisted that some expenses were funded by external bodies but show in internal accounts. However, when asked, the institution could not say how much was funded externally.

A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: “Our University Executive Board (UEB) has led a successful programme to develop academic partnerships and student exchange opportunities around the world. This work has included a number of international visits that have positively impacted on our University and city region – for example, through inward investment which makes Sheffield a better place to live and study.

“This also allows the University to compete on an international stage to attract the most talented, ambitious and creative people from all over the world to work with us and support our commitment to excellent teaching, research and enterprise.

“Members of our UEB also have prominent research interests that involve travel related to research visits and conferences. Some of these costs are ultimately funded by specific external bodies, however are included in our remuneration report if they are paid by the University in the first instance.

"We recognise that these expenses are an area of interest and are committed to ensuring value for money in the way University funds are spent.”