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Durham Uni spends £4,000 on vice-chancellors rent during refurbishments

This was on top of her £160k salary


Durham University spent £4000 on rent for the vice chancellor’s accommodation during the academic year 2022/2023.

The spending occurred while the vice chancellor Karen O’Brien’s usual residence, Hollingside House, was being renovated and refurbished, the Palatinate reports.

The vice chancellor was required to say in temporary private accommodation from January last year for three months until renovations were complete.

The university said that: “The vice chancellor’s accommodation was not ready for occupation when she started in January 2022. The university rented temporary accommodation for the first three months of her tenure, and she continued in the same accommodation in a private capacity for a further period before taking up residence in a flat in Hollingside House on 1st September”.

The university added: “The flat is within a university-owned property and has an annual estimated value of £12,000.”

With Hollingside House also playing host to the official residence of the vice chancellor normally, and facilities for hosting the vice chancellor’s events and visitors, the university also pays for the vice chancellor’s utility bills.

Jennifer Sewel, the university Secretary for Durham University, said in 2020: “Hollingside House is owned by Durham University and is used for business purposes, including meetings and events. The vice chancellor lives in a two bedroomed flat attached to the House, where he also maintains an office”. Sewel here is referring presumably to then vice chancellor and Karen O’Brien’s predecessor, Stuart Corbridge.

She continued: ‘The money spent on Hollingside House in 2015 to 2017 was to address the issues of rising damp, undertake major works to the roof and for general refurbishment and decoration as part of a planned programme. No major capital expenditure has been undertaken since”.

That is until now, only a few years on, with the issues stated above often still faced by students in their own accommodation, in the cost of living crisis.

Previously, Palatinate uncovered that in the prior renovation taking place in 2016, the university last spent £700,000 in total on Hollingside House. This was broken down into £16, 752 on an interior designer, £43,200 on an architect, and £3, 792 on a bat survey.

Previously, Palatinate uncovered that in the prior renovation taking place in 2016, the university last spent £700,000 in total on Hollingside House. This was broken down into £16, 752 on an interior designer, £43,200 on an architect, and £3, 792 on a bat survey.

In comparison, the maximum student maintenance loan for the same academic year for a student at Durham was up to £9,706 according to the Government’s website.

In the annual report and financial statements for the year ended 31 July 2022, the university said: “As well as their basic pay, the post holder is eligible to join the USS. Should the post holder not wish to be a member, the university will pay life assurance premiums and an Additional Remuneration Allowance (ARA)”.

According to her profile on the university’s website, part of Karen O’Brien’s duties as vice chancellor includes how she “co-ordinates the university’s integrated planning  and budgeting process and approves annual plans”.

Durham University has said of the role in their financial report that “The post holder is provided rent-free accommodation to enable better performance of their duties. From April 2021 this has been deemed a taxable benefit. The accommodation is a flat within a larger university-owned building. There are no other emoluments paid to the post holder” typically.

The university told Palatinate: ‘The university is a large and complex institution with over 4,300 FTE staff and more than 22,000 students. It has an annual turnover of almost £460m per annum and has embarked upon an ambitious 10 year strategy including a programme of extensive estate refurbishment and new development totalling some £750m”.

All the while, students are living in damp, mouldy and unsafe university accommodation, with reports of asbestos, mould and outdated furnishings.

The spokesperson also said: “Net growth of 330 new academic staff and up to 4,000 additional students is scheduled over the ten year strategy period. The university generates £1.2 billion GVA, two thirds of which accrues to the north east of England. Durham is a top six UK university and a world top 100 university (QS World Rankings 2023) with a global reputation for excellence in research and education.

‘The vice chancellor’s salary is reviewed annually in accordance with our published pay policy by independent members of the Remuneration Committee. This includes external benchmarking and consideration of the scale, complexity, and performance of the university. Competitive salary packages are essential to attract and retain outstanding staff in senior leadership roles”.

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