The article "Sector shuts out external consultants in era of austerity" (5 April) cites Birmingham City University as having spent nothing on external consultants in the past three years. Featuring at the bottom of this particular league table causes us no concerns. However, our response had less to do with our actual expenditure and more to do with the fuzzy definitions used in Times Higher Education's Freedom of Information request.
On seeking clarification from THE of the meaning of "external consultants", we were informed that this meant: "people brought in to help existing staff with the running of the university...But it does not include consultants brought in to do jobs that a normal university would never maintain staff to do."
Setting aside the issue of what a "normal university" means, we reasoned that since we employ consultants only where we do not possess the expertise in-house, and such staff do not undertake the operational running of the university, our answer was zero.
We answered the exam question as put. It's what we teach all our students to do.
Christine Abbott, University secretary, Birmingham City University