15th June 2012 at 01:00

Estate agents of the revolution

Much of the talk of the University and College Union Congress concerned the general secretary Sally Hunt's controversial plans for a smaller, cheaper, less Trotskyist national executive committee. That's all very well, but the spirit of thriftiness does not appear to be universal.

Although the budget for the FE committee received only a modest rise this time round, next year's planned budget for the higher education committee will swell by #163;20,000, almost doubling its cost. That's quite a lot of port and claret to be quaffed in oak-lined rooms while the FE committee eat their Tesco Value sandwiches.

But why is the union so strapped for cash, anyway? The answer might have something to do with the mouldering old London headquarters of the former National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, which the union has failed to sell for the past four years.

Alas, the budget makes it clear that the union doesn't expect to be able to flog the Britannia Street site and pay off its loans for the next 12 months either. In fact, it's had to withdraw plans by developers to turn it into student accommodation after surprise objections from English Heritage.

Still, it's ironic that the fate of the UCU's People's Front of Judea-style factions has turned out to be tied to the fortunes of something as bourgeois as the property market.

The gold standard

One organisation that doesn't appear to have to go without the luxuries is Bradford College. Despite telling staff that they will have to accept lower pay and fewer holidays, the college somehow found the cash to buy an ornate, medieval-style mace for its HE graduation ceremonies. Priorities!

The college says that the #163;22,000 bill for the mace, made by the gold- and silversmiths responsible for the FA Cup, was picked up by corporate sponsors. So that's all right, then.

Bradford, of course, is set to become the first FE college to gain full degree-awarding powers, but has stressed that it wants to remain within the traditions of FE and not join the snooty world of universities. On the other hand, you've got to have a ceremonial mace, haven't you?

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