Book fire cover is lacking

December 21, 2001

Lecturers beware - if your university burns down, your precious collection of books may not be covered by its insurance.

Staff who buy books for research and teaching themselves may find they are not recoverable on their university's policy.

The problem came to light after a fire at City University, when lecturers whose texts were destroyed had to make claims on their own insurance.

David Rhind, City's vice-chancellor, said that the university's policy did not cover personal possessions, including books.

"I suspect you will find this in any university in the country," he said. "But my colleagues said they had bought books the university couldn't afford and so were actually subsidising the university.

"These were not just books, they were tools of the trade. It was clear that this was something at the centre of academic enterprise."

City made some ex-gratia payments to staff. It has now changed its insurance policy to cover books and related materials at an extra annual cost of about £5,000.

"I suspect this is something every university might do," Professor Rhind said.

City has circulated a report on the fire to all vice-chancellors, and Professor Rhind expects it to prompt changes in the way universities operate.

Middlesex University vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll said: "A lot of teaching staff do indeed buy their own books and no one would like to be in a position of saying that if they go up in flames, it's tough luck. This is not something we have given consideration to before but this will prompt me to look into it."

Smokers in universities may find their habit under closer scrutiny following the report.

Although it is not clear whether the City blaze was started by a cigarette, an investigation revealed that some staff had been smoking in their offices in defiance of university policy. City staff must now go outside to a specially erected "bus shelter" to smoke.

City fire report: www.city.ac.uk/citynews/archive/2001/au2/phoenix.pdf

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