Edinburgh's overseas 'jolly' draws UCU fire

University says it hopes to engage overseas alumni via Hong Kong council event, writes Hannah Fearn

June 10, 2010

The University of Edinburgh has been accused of excessive spending in a time of austerity as it prepares to hold its annual council meeting in Hong Kong this week.

The meeting, scheduled to take place from 11 to 13 June, will be the general council's first in the former British colony, although it has visited other parts of the world to engage alumni.

Publicity details for the event said the Hong Kong meeting was "another important milestone in taking general council meetings to members in other parts of the world".

Delegates were expected to book a place in advance and contribute to the cost, but the University and College Union criticised the location choice in the current financial climate.

Mary Senior, UCU Scottish official, said the trip was "excessive at a time when university funding is limited and jobs are being lost. All graduates of Edinburgh have a democratic right to attend the general council, but few will be able to attend this meeting due to its location. Edinburgh should be saving jobs and increasing democracy rather than organising jollies halfway around the world."

The university defended its decision, stating that it was an "international institution with many thousands of alumni around the world" and that events held abroad allowed them to take part in the life of the university.

It added that the cost of the meeting had been kept to a minimum and that costs incurred by the university were "significantly outweighed by the long-term benefits".

Ann Matheson, secretary of the general council, said: "Our alumni are important ambassadors for Edinburgh, raising our profile throughout the world and thus helping us to attract international students, donations and grants. Involving overseas alumni in such a way helps generate valuable income for the university."

Malcolm Gillies, vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University and author of a forthcoming guide to best practice on governance for the Higher Education Policy Institute, said Edinburgh was thinking about governing on an international stage.

"If 25 or 35 per cent of your students are international students then we need recognition at governance level of the kinds of interests that those students bring and the kind of education they will want," he said.

He added that, in terms of a university's bottom line, it was "very prudent to have governors who have overseas experience or are located in other countries".

Professor Gillies said that Australian universities had been doing this for a decade.

Edinburgh said it was expecting the Hong Kong meeting to be well attended, and would also use the occasion to host a conference on the economics of climate change.

"We hope that by holding this event in Hong Kong we will influence the way in which climate change issues are thought about and dealt with in China," Dr Matheson said.

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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