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Brush with Controversy: KCL’s £175,000 Staircase Paint-Job

Maughan library exterior

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that King’s College London (KCL) spent the equivalent of almost twenty domestic students’ annual tuition fees on renovating just two Maughan library staircases.

The University describe the project as a “repainting” of staircases C and D, although these letter demarkations are not indicated on library maps or signs. They state that the work began in February and is scheduled to be completed in September of this year.

This has raised serious questions over value-for-money and efficiency of maintenance at King’s.

Staircase shot from below
One staircase at the Maughan (11/04/24). Image courtesy of Fintan Hogan.

A further £450,000 has been spent on an “upgrade” to CCTV and £250,000 on an “uplift” to some of the library’s toilets over the last few years. The Vice-Chancellor’s apartment within the library also received a £64,539 “refresh” in summer 2021, the start of Shitij Kapur’s tenure as Principal and President (now Vice-Chancellor) of King’s.

Altogether, the University has funded over £4.8 million of Maughan redevelopments since June 2021. As a 150-year-old, Grade II-listed building, substantial amounts of that money have been spent on crucial infrastructure and maintenance work. This includes the upkeep of retaining walls, the improvement of ventilation systems and ensuring that the building follows fire safety standards.

Roar’s revelation about the £175,000 paint-job comes as universities across the UK are facing considerable pressure over their finances. Alongside other higher education institutions, KCL has been rocked by waves of industrial action over the last few years, as staff campaign for higher wages and better working conditions.

Vice-Chancellor Kapur recently argued that “constrained resources” in the university sector meant that government should consider going back to “inflation-related uplift[s]” in students’ tuition fees. Adjusted for inflation, the £9,250 cap (set in 2016) would now be in excess of £12,000 per student per year. Kapur argues that this would reduce the incentive for universities to recruit more students from abroad and make the higher education business model sustainable.

However, King’s did report a £128 million operating surplus in 2022-23.

At the time of publication, King’s have not returned Roar’s request for comment.

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