Union leaders have criticised "lavish and needless" spending at Liverpool Hope University College as it confirmed a deficit approaching £1 million.
The college this week said it was due to confirm an £800,000 deficit for the year to July 2003 and was forecasting a "similar" level of deficit for this financial year. It said consultation on a number of redundancies was under way but at present just six job losses were planned.
Lecturers' union Natfhe said the college was in a "mess" and there was real concern that redundancies would escalate as the deficit was projected to be between £1 million and £1.5 million for 2003-04.
Adrian Jones, Natfhe official for the Northern region, said the news was particularly galling for staff, who felt the college had wasted money through "lavish and needless" spending.
Mr Jones said the college had recently spent £40,000 on two decorative "obelisks". He said: "They are pretty and ornate but of no educational value whatsoever. The cost is equivalent to a job for a year."
Sources have criticised spending on "specially commissioned" carpets, a reportedly lavish inauguration ceremony for incoming rector Gerald Pillay, who took over from Simon Lee, the rector for the previous eight years who left in September to head Leeds Metropolitan University.
Staff have also criticised the commissioning of a portrait of Professor Lee to mark his eight years at the head of the Christian college earlier this year. Similar portraits by the same artist - Alastair Adams -can be commissioned for between £6,000 and £7,000, The THES has learnt.
The college said the criticisms were "well wide of the mark". It said that the two pillars were part of a one-off £40,000 payment for new signs across the two Liverpool campuses, needed to "replace old signage and to assist re-branding as Liverpool Hope University College - a title bestowed on Hope following award of taught degree-awarding powers".
A spokeswoman said the inauguration ceremony for the new rector, which took place this month, was "relatively modest". "It was a liturgical service, presided over by the bishops. This is a normal occurrence in higher education and is important for Hope's tradition and networking," she said.
"As for the portrait of the previous rector, there is a long tradition dating back to the 19th century of having these commissioned and the portrait is held at the college rather than being a gift to the individual.
"The only 'special carpets' with logos on are mats in reception areas that needed replacing and cost a few pounds, which can hardly be called 'specially commissioned'. If the level of debate has come down to the mats in use it says something about those making the allegations rather than the college's use of funds," she said.
Sean Gallagher, director of resources at Liverpool Hope, said the college planned to return to a financial surplus by 2004-05, adding that the financial problems were a manageable consequence of major developments, not excessive spending.
He said the college was in the process of changing its curriculum, introducing new courses while phasing out less popular ones, and had just begun delivering courses in Blackburn and Bury for the first time, operations that would become more cost-effective as student numbers increased.
He said about six job losses were so far planned, and the college hoped to avoid further redundancies.