As Professor Andy Schofield offers students barred from their accommodation due to lockdown a paltry £400 "goodwill payment," Spineless can reveal that Lancaster University spent in excess of £50,000 upgrading his house when he was appointed vice-chancellor. The total sum includes £44,415 on repairs and maintenance, and £7,575 on furniture and fittings.
Prof Schofield, who receives a salary and emoluments worth over £300,000 a year, rents a residential property owned by Lancaster University. But in response to Freedom of Information requests, the University has refused to disclose how much rent it charges its own vice-chancellor, saying that the rental agreement is: "a private, commercial agreement between a landlord and a tenant." The rental rate was calculated based on a valuation provided by estate agents Richard Turner & Son. The University also says that the vice-chancellor had "no say or involvement" in how the £52,000 was spent.
The University insists that the property was bought "due to its strategic location" and not for any particular resident or use. Spineless understands that the property is located in the 165-acre Forrest Hills site which lies to the east of the Bailrigg campus, and encompasses a former golf course and fishing lake. Forrest Hills is known for its conference centre, in "a lush, leafy and scenic setting," which remains in commercial use as part of the University's conference service. When the University purchased Forrest Hills in 2016, they paid £400,000 for Banton House Farm, a historic eighteenth-century residential farmhouse, which lies in at the heart of the site.
The fact that the vice-chancellor's landlord is the University which he runs is the sort of thing Spineless would expect him to declare as a financial interest. If he has done so or not, we cannot confirm, as the section of the University's website where University Council members' register of interests is published is currently blank. This only puts the University in violation of its duties under Sections 19 and 20 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. So, no big deal then.
It is clear that Professor Schofield has benefitted significantly from the University's generous payments towards his own accommodation, whether or not he was involved in the process. His situation is not unlike that of Professor Ian Diamond, former principal of Aberdeen University and now the UK's National Statistician, who sits on University Council at Lancaster. Diamond was heavily criticised by Aberdeen students for living rent-free in a University-owned house, and refused to budge even when their students' association ran a campaign on fair rents. As Spineless has previously reported, in February 2020, Aberdeen was ordered by a regulator to pay back a "golden goodbye" they had given to Diamond, amounting to almost £120,000. A separate probe by the Scottish charities regulator has since found that there was "misconduct" in relation to the six-figure payoff. Aberdeen University has asked Diamond to give them the money back, but as of December 2020, he has not done so.
Diamond is not the only Council member with a controversial rent-based past: during the parliamentary expenses scandal in 2009, it was found that Lancaster's illustrious Pro-Chancellor Alistair Burt - then a Tory MP - had claimed £1,000 too much from the public purse to pay for rent. He did not have to pay it back.
Compare the £52,000 spent doing up Schofield's house to the "some Amazon vouchers" given by the University to a student in an attempt at compensation for a leak dripping onto their bed for two weeks before it was fixed. Or compare University Council members Diamond and Burt's generously subsidised previous rental arrangements to the mere £400 being offered to students currently unable to access their rooms.
At Lancaster, student tenants aren't offered the same expensive maintenance afforded to their vice-chancellor, or the discounted rental agreements which University Council members have benefitted from in the past. It's one rule for them, and one rule for everybody else.