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£27,000 on Decorations, £50,000 on Flights and a Hotel by the White House: Vice-Chancellor’s Luxury Expenses Come to Light

Photograph courtesy of Emma Carmichael

A Roar investigation into the expense claims of King’s College London (KCL) Vice-Chancellor Shitij Kapur has uncovered several cases of extravagant spending.

Receipts and other details acquired under Freedom of Information powers show further details of the publicly declared expenses of senior executives.

Of the around £60,000 which was spent on the renovation of the Vice-Chancellor’s Maughan Library flat in June 2021, over £26,000 was on decorations and £10,000 on furniture replacements (a figure which includes fixtures such as lighting).

This includes £2,875 on the decoration of an area described as the ‘Back staircase (fire escape)’. A further £5,000 was spent on redecorating the kitchen and £4,000 on refurnishing the foyer. It is understood that as a result of the Maughan Library’s Grade II listed heritage status, any work must be carried out by specialists, including on the flat.

The £37,068 total on redecorating and refurnishing alone is more than the advertised annual base salaries of KCL receptionists, IT officers, lab technicians, admissions officers, security staff and senior timetabling officers.

Details about lavish expenditure on foreign visits have also emerged. It is already known that KCL had spent almost £8,000 on Vice-Chancellor Kapur’s two-day trip to Phoenix, but Roar can now further reveal that this cost was exclusively for the return flight, not including any further accommodation or food.

There is no indication that this was a last minute booking, as a KCL spokesperson previously described the trip “as part of the PLuS Alliance with Arizona State University and the University of New South Wales (UNSWc)”. That notwithstanding, at the time of writing, even booking only a week in advance, tickets on the same exact flights taken by the VC (BA 1526 and BA 288) can be purchased for £1,368 in economy class or £3,445 in business class. It is therefore unclear how over twice this amount was spent.

On another occasion, KCL spent almost £10,000 on a return flight for Vice-Chancellor Kapur to the United States. For this purchase, the receipt records that the outbound leg was taken in business class and the return journey in first class. The date of purchase is not given. In response to this claim, a source from KCL stated “Finnair only operate up to business class but use these titles interchangeably… it was a business class flight.”

On this trip, the Vice-Chancellor stayed in the Inter-Continental Willard in Washington D.C., described as “one of the world’s grandest and most iconic hotels”. It is situated just metres away from the White House. The VC’s single room cost KCL over £500 per night.

On another occasion, the Vice-Chancellor was booked on a 6-hour flight in premium economy for £3,474. The VC’s office paid a further £1,591 to upgrade the VC’s seat to business class. A KCL source described this as a “part of cost sharing across departments”.

In total, over the first two years of his tenure (June 2021 – June 2023), the Vice-Chancellor’s seven international trips never cost less than £2,000 and their combined total accumulated to almost £50,000 in expenses.

No expenses from this academic year are yet in the public domain.

When providing the receipts, the KCL Information Compliance team stated that “the use of business class travel enables the Vice-Chancellor’s to fit flights into intensive workdays, and to allow for, where necessary, working during flights and immediately upon landing. Additionally, in some cases this is due to the use of last-minute bookings.”

However, the King’s webpage ‘Remuneration of the Vice-Chancellor & President of King’s’ states that the Vice-Chancellor’s expenses operate “in accordance with financial regulations and procedures applicable to all staff”. KCL’s general Travel Policy says that “first class, business or any premium fare for any means of travel will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances” and that “travellers must ensure that they achieve value for money when booking accommodation”. In the light of this new information, these rules do not appear to have been applied to the VC.

This is likely due to clause 8.4 of the Procedures for Staff & Student Travel, which states that “in the case of the Principal [permission to travel in an upgraded class] should be covered by annual standing authorisation from the Chair of College Council, indicating that such travel can be permitted where circumstances dictate that this is an appropriate option in the interests of the university”. Similarly, clause 8.23 allows the same annual approval for “approval for upgraded accommodation”.

It therefore appears that the Vice-Chancellor essentially receives an annual ‘blank cheque’ for international travel and accommodation, not subjected to the “value for money” clause which applies to other staff members.

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