Universities UK is planning to charter train carriages to transport vice-chancellors to their annual residential meeting this September because the only public trains available do not have first-class accommodation.
In a letter to vice-chancellors this week, UUK explained that most of them were likely to have to travel to the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, via Birmingham, where trains and planes inter-connect. But "unfortunately there is no first-class travel" on any of the available trains.
The letter said: "It is proposed to charter train carriages for those attending the conference. This would enable members to complete the journey in the company of other members, and the carriages would be less crowded than 'normal' carriages."
Chris Kaufman, national secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, whose members, along with other campus unions, have just rejected an "insulting" 2.5 per cent pay offer, criticised the move as extravagant. He said: "This sounds like a very different world from the one our members inhabit, where university cleaners are asked to use black refuse bags twice for economy reasons."
One vice-chancellor who was less than enamoured with the plan said: "It is the end of civilisation as we know it. A vice-chancellor might meet a student, or even the press, if they travel in standard class."
A spokeswoman for UUK said: "This is one of the options we are looking at as a cost-effective way of getting large numbers of people to one location.
"There is only one two-carriages train every two hours. If 120 people turn up at the same time, they are not all going to get a seat. If we get two-thirds of the carriages full, it's just tens of pounds per head.
"A lot of the vice-chancellors will have a nine-hour journey and we want to make the last leg as hassle-free as possible."