The University of Plymouth’s leadership has been criticised for spending £375,000 on refurbishing buildings that house the vice-chancellor’s office while planning to cut up to 150 jobs, as a fall in student numbers brings “financial challenges”.
Plymouth, the scene of dramatic governance failures during the tenure of its former vice-chancellor Wendy Purcell, advertised a tender for “the external and internal refurbishment of numbers 17 and 18 Portland Villas”.
The addresses listed in the £375,000 tender, published in May, house the office of the vice-chancellor, Judith Petts, and the university’s human resources department.
Last month, Professor Petts told staff that the university was launching a “voluntary leaving” scheme – but that if insufficient numbers of staff came forward, compulsory redundancies might follow, with between 100 and 150 jobs at risk.
Professor Petts took over at Plymouth in February 2016, following the turbulent denouement to her predecessor’s tenure, which first erupted when Professor Purcell was suspended in 2014. She later returned to work before stepping down from a role as president at the end of 2015. During the turmoil, it emerged that the university spent £95,000 on seven handcrafted chairs to be used at graduation ceremonies.
One source said of the present situation that staff morale is “at an all-time low” and it “feels as if we are repeating history”.
The university bills the refurbishment as part of a much wider plan to renovate a number of buildings, including a major project to regenerate the area of the city around the railway station, which it says will be central to the institution’s future development and civic mission.
But it is among a number of universities seeing its student numbers squeezed. The number of new students accepting places at Plymouth stood at 7,560 in 2010, at 5,540 in 2014 and 4,520 in 2018, according to Ucas figures.
A Plymouth spokesman said that the university, “along with many other universities, is planning to reduce its staff costs as the whole sector faces significant financial challenges. In this context and working with our trade unions the university has launched a voluntary leaving scheme to enable it to manage staff costs, as well as support future investment in the estate, IT and the planned growth of health, medicine and engineering.
“We of course recognise that this is an unsettling time for colleagues and we are committed to working closely with staff and our unions.”
Print headline: Plymouth pays £375k for v-c office project as it cuts jobs
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