Q&A - Dispatches documentary on university finances

Issue date: 27 February 2018


1) Why did UWE Bristol feature on the Dispatches documentary about university finances?

ITN Productions, which makes the Dispatches programme for Channel 4, recently approached all UK public universities for financial information relating to senior staff expenses covering the past two years. Of the 157 universities approached for information, 13 did not cooperate.

The University's response to the Freedom of Information request from Dispatches was wholly transparent, disclosing full details beyond that which we were legally required.

The programme highlighted the total of expense claims made by the Vice-Chancellor and the senior management team, and travel costs incurred in the UK and abroad. The Vice-Chancellor's role as a board member of the Office for Students was also focused on.

UWE Bristol was extremely disappointed and shocked that Dispatches presented an unfair and inaccurate portrayal of the University and the way it conducts its finances.

2) Why do senior UWE Bristol staff travel overseas as part of their role?

A key part of the role of the Vice-Chancellor and his senior team is to travel to its overseas partner institutions, to ensure the quality of the provision on offer, support students and staff at events such as graduation ceremonies, and continue to look for and build new relationships and opportunities.

The University has 15 partner universities in 10 countries. When these international partnerships were established, a certain number of trips were agreed each year for the senior team. All overseas travel undertaken is kept to a minimum and all trips are working visits. This year, the University is forecasting that these overseas partnerships will generate £27.8million of income, which will support the function of the University.

The University was very disappointed to hear the programme refer to fine dining and five star hotels. UWE Bristol simply does not use five star hotels when an overnight stay is required in the UK and keeps costs of meals to a minimum. International accommodation booked for our senior staff is four or five star rated. This is equivalent to three or four star accommodation in the UK. Business trips are always kept to the minimum amount of time needed to reduce costs.

With regards to air travel, the University's senior staff always fly business class and not first class. Business class is used on the basis that representatives of UWE Bristol traveling overseas will go straight into business meetings on arrival at their destination. The same travel policy applies to all senior staff and there are no exceptions made for the Vice-Chancellor.

It is also important to clarify that UK student fees are never used towards the cost of foreign travel, a fact the programme failed to mention.

UWE Bristol has always taken an open and transparent approach to the way its Vice-Chancellor and senior leadership team conduct business on behalf of the University. All expenses of senior staff are published on our website, along with full disclosure of the Vice-Chancellor's remuneration and benefits.

3) Travel to and from London and across the UK is mentioned in the programme – what was this for and how is it justified?

Building relationships in the HE sector at a national level, and with business leaders, industry leaders and the Government, all bring benefits to students at the University.

The Vice-Chancellor has a number of roles that require travel to London and other parts of the UK regularly, including roles at HEFCE, the Office for Students, Universities UK, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership and the West of England Academic Health Science Network.

In the UK, rail travel is always used when possible, but car travel is used when there is insufficient time in the schedule to travel by train, for example when travelling to and from Heathrow or for overseas airport transfers.

Whilst the Vice-Chancellor and senior staff use their own personal cars for business use, a car service is used to travel to and from London when suitable train times are not available and an overnight stay would be required if public transport was used.

The programme referenced the Vice-Chancellor taking a car to London at 16:00. On this occasion, Professor West attended an evening event which finished late. He returned home the same night, arriving back at 01:30, to enable him to able to attend another meeting in Bristol at 08:00. The programme referred to this taxi service as a 'chauffeur driven car'. The Vice-Chancellor does not use, and has not used, a chauffeur service.

The programme also mentioned the use of 'limousine' transfers. These were in fact standard airport taxi transfers arranged by hotels.

4) How is the VC's pay decided?

University Vice-Chancellors are well paid, of course, and Professor West's salary is around the average for the sector. His salary for 2017 was £254,120, plus an additional performance premium of £25,412.

The Dispatches programme incorrectly reported the Vice-Chancellor's salary as £326,012 which includes pension costs borne by the University but not paid to Professor West.

The role of a Vice-Chancellor is a big job, and UWE Bristol is one of the largest higher education institutions in the country. Professor West has compared managing UWE Bristol to running a small town, consisting of about 34,000 people (staff and students) with a turnover of about £270 million each year. The position comes with a huge amount of responsibility and accountability. The Vice-Chancellor is accountable to the board of governors, every student, every member of staff, and the government.

The Vice-Chancellor's salary and performance premium is reviewed annually by the University's remuneration committee, of which Professor West has no part in. The committee looks at a range of measures and indicators of performance related to student, staff and teaching to see where the University compares with the rest of the sector. This includes the quality of the student experience, which is now at its highest it has ever been with an 88% satisfaction rating from the National Student Survey. This is 4% above the sector average and places UWE Bristol as the highest of all 13 universities in the south west of England.

5) What is the Office for Students and what is Professor West's role within it?

The Office for Students (OfS) legally came into force on 1 January 2018 to hold universities to account and promote students' interests.

Replacing HEFCE as the main regulator of higher education, it has been designed to champion the interests of students, promote choice and help to ensure that students are receiving a good deal for their investment in higher education.

Professor West was named as the sole University Vice-Chancellor on the 15-strong OfS board which also includes business leaders and legal experts.

For further information, the University's two statements regarding the Dispatches documentary can be found below:

University of the West of England condemns Dispatches programme

Statement in response to Dispatches programme on university expenses

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