A lavish party to celebrate the opening of City of Glasgow College’s new Riverside campus cost more than £31,000 to stage, with nearly £12,000 splashed out on catering alone, TESS can reveal.
The news prompted support-staff unions to express concern that colleges were failing to prioritise spending at a time of sector-wide budget cuts.
But the college insisted the outlay for the grand opening was justified as it helped to forge international links, which stimulated “commercial investment”. It added that the event also served to position Glasgow as “a global shipping centre of excellence that is vital to the country’s future economy”.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that the college forked out £2,510 on printed invitations for the launch event, plus £17,341 on, among other things, staging, audio-visual equipment, event management, public relations and lighting. A further £11,772 was spent on food and drink for the 300 guests.
The ceremony – attended by first minister Nicola Sturgeon – was the latest in a series of moves by the college to boost its “world-class” reputation. Earlier this year, TESS revealed that principal Paul Little had enrolled on a £50,000 eight-week advanced management programme at Harvard Business School to support his college “as it strives to confirm its position as a world leader in learning”.
Priorities under fire
A spokesman for support-staff union Unison said members were “becoming increasingly concerned about the spending priorities of Scottish further education colleges”.
He said: “Principals seem divorced from reality. Of course we need to make international links and launch new colleges, but at the same time as spending these large sums of money, we are seeing job cuts, pay cuts and staff delivering more with less.”
Unison estimates that almost half its members employed in colleges earn less than £21,000, with only 12 per cent earning more than £30,000.
The union’s concerns come as the Scottish college sector continues to experience significant funding difficulties. Only a few weeks ago, TESS reported that principals were concerned about the viability of a proposed salary increase of 1 per cent for all college staff.
And in an interview, Edinburgh principal Annette Bruton said that her college would no longer be able to continue “salami slicing” its budgets and would have to find “more innovative solutions” to the funding crisis.
‘Statement of intent’
City of Glasgow College’s Riverside campus is the first part of the institution’s £228 million “supercampus” to open.
Mr Little said the £66 million site was “a bold statement of intent by CoGC to lead the global maritime college community”.
The waterfront campus has workshops and classrooms, a 10-storey accommodation block and a landscaped recreation area. The maritime engineering workshop features what the college calls “Scotland’s first shipping simulation suite”, allowing students to experience the bridge of a supertanker, as well as nautical chart rooms and a ferry-sized ship’s engine.
EIS general secretary Larry Flanagan said the creation of the campus had been “a significant event for the college, for students and staff, and for the wider community”. A formal opening event was “appropriate”, he added.
A spokesperson for the college defended the outlay, saying: “We were proud to showcase the £66 million world-class facilities for education and training in maritime and engineering – subjects that already attract students from 135 countries.
“It was important that staff, students and the college’s international partners were also given the opportunity to be part of such a significant milestone for CoGC.”