Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, last year had one of the largest expense claims of any Russell Group head, Felix can reveal.
Data obtained from Freedom of Information requests show Professor Gast last year claimed nearly £44,000 in expenses, mainly for travel abroad.
The expenses claimed are slightly higher than the median salary for employees at Imperial, and come on top of her annual salary of £433,000. A Felix report earlier this year revealed Imperial spends more on senior staff salary than any other Russell Group university, with key management personnel receiving £5.6 million last year.
Professor Gast’s expense bill is one of the highest for any Russell Group vice-chancellor, with the average Russell Group university head claiming under £10,000 a year. The next highest expenses bill came from Professor Koen Lamberts, Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, who claimed £20,743.20, under half claimed by Professor Gast.
“Professor Gast’s expenses were higher than the average salary for Imperial College staff”
The vast majority of the £43,965 claimed back by Professor Gast was spent on trips abroad: in 2016⁄17 she claimed back expenses for 16 trips around the world, including over £26,000 spent on three trips to America. She spent a further £6890 on a trip to India, and over £7000 on trips to other countries in Europe, including a visit to Davos, where she spoke on ‘Maintaining Innovation’.
The remainder of her expense claims were for taxis, gifts, and ‘hospitality’.
Other members of senior leadership at Imperial had a wide range of expense claims: Professor James Stirling, Provost of Imperial, who will be retiring this summer, last year claimed under £1,500. This included nearly £500 for office equipment. The furthest trip he claimed for was a visit to Cambridge.
The three Vice-Presidents of Imperial – Sarah Waterbury, Vice-President (Advancement); Luke Blair, Vice-President (Communications and Public Affairs); and Professor David Gann, Vice-President (Innovation) – claimed over £18,000 between them, with a significant proportion spent on visits abroad.
A spokesperson for Imperial College London told Felix it was “vital that senior staff can build and strengthen relationships with industry, academic partners, government, philanthropists, and alumni.”
They went on to say: “All senior staff play a role, but President Gast has a particular responsibility for safeguarding the College’s financial future and maintaining academic excellence and is expected to give greater emphasis to Imperial’s external relationships, development and fundraising. She regularly travels abroad to raise Imperial’s international profile, forge new partnerships, and host meetings with key figures, including alumni and philanthropists.”
While Professor Gast had one of the highest expenses bills in the Russell Group, there was a wide range in claims. On average, vice-chancellors of Russell Group universities claimed back £9.578.82 over the course of 2016⁄17. Other high spenders, aside from Professors Gast and Lamberts, included Professor Stuart Corbridge of Durham University, and Professor Dame Janet Beer of the University of Liverpool. They claimed £18,711.61 and £16,763.59 respectively.
Other vice-chancellors had much smaller expense claims: the vice-chancellors of the University of Exeter and Queen Mary University of London did not submit any expense claims for 2016⁄17. Professor Sir Keith Burnett, of the University of Sheffield, claimed for a single taxi journey last year, which cost £27.
A report from the University and College Union (UCU), published earlier this year, found the average vice-chancellor across the entire higher education sector was spending £7,295 each year on flights, and £3,498 on hotels. A significant portion of vice-chancellors flew exclusively in first and business class.
Vice-chancellor expenses hit the news earlier this year, when an investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme found university senior management had claimed nearly £8 million expenses over the past two years. A number of vice-chancellors came under fire for their spending, which included fine dining, Fortnum & Mason hampers, and travel for a pet dog.
In response to the findings, Robert Halfon MP, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, compared the situation to the MP expenses scandal of 2009. He called on universities to publish information on the expenses of senior management, saying “We live in an age of transparency…We have a duty to the taxpayer, we have a duty to the student.”
Different universities have different approaches to publishing expense claims: some Russell Group institutions, such as the University of York, publish all their vice-chancellor’s expense claims on an annual basis; others, such as Imperial, do not make this information publicly available.
An Imperial spokesperson told Felix: “All expenses are claimed in line with the College’s policy to reimburse staff for valid expenses in the performance of their duties for the College.”