The University of Central Lancashire has been accused of taking “speculative gambles” on its overseas campuses, “risking assets and revenue built up with public contributions”.
The University and College Union published a report today urging Uclan “open up the books on their group companies and make the flow of funds between their enterprises transparent”.
Uclan has faced criticism over its overseas campuses, as Times Higher Education has reported.
The university’s Cyprus campus has been described as a security risk by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, after it opened in the UN buffer zone separating the Greek and Turkish communities. A planned Sri Lanka campus has prompted Amnesty International UK to warn the university to “take note of the country’s appalling human rights record”. And a planned Thailand campus collapsed before building could start, costing the university an estimated £3.2 million.
The UCU says that to fund the ventures Uclan “seems to have created equity in a series of holding and subsidiary companies”.
One company, Uclan Overseas Ltd, “earns income by providing ‘consultancy fees’ back to its parent Uclan Group”, says the UCU. “Uclan Overseas earned almost £2 million in consultancy fees from the group in 2013, which helped it offset losses of £1.2 million in its investment activities,” the report adds.
The UCU says the equity for these companies “must have been created out of public assets and university assets built up with public contributions over time”.
The union argues that “no one has been held accountable” for the Thailand failure.
The UCU says the university has plans to cut 75 jobs, adding that the “obvious suspicion is that the university is attempting to create financial headroom to allow for further remittances to its subsidiary companies and their speculative investments”.
Uclan said in a statement that it accounts “are open to the public and available for scrutiny”.
It added that the “change agenda required” in its UK institution and its overseas operations “are entirely and carefully separated. No public money has been used in the management of the university’s international programme and our UK operations face no exposure whatsoever to our international activities.”
But the university said its international strategy was “integral to the experience we seek to provide for Uclan students and will also ensure that we can generate new revenue streams to ensure the university goes from strength to strength”.