Universities in the north of Scotland are spending thousands of pounds every month on items including takeaway pizza, coffee and bouquets of flowers.
Using freedom of information legislation, The Press and Journal has gained access to credit card spending reports from Aberdeen University, Robert Gordon University, the University of the Highlands and Islands and Scotland’s Rural College.
Since the start of 2017, the four institutions have paid out more than £4.8million in expenses for a variety of goods.
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These have ranged from conventional purchases like train tickets and stationary through to riding saddles, jewellery and live animals.
Last January, Aberdeen University sent £3,646.28 via PayPal to an e-mail address for “electrical equipment.” Upon further investigation it appeared to be linked to a Russian computer website specialising in video-editing hardware.
Since then it has also racked up more than £24,000 in Moab, a city in eastern Utah with a population of around 5,500. Purchases have been made at hotels, breweries and a car wash there as part of an annual geology field trip undertaken by students.
Elsewhere RGU has spent close to £2,000 on sportswear and retro football shirts.
A university spokesman said these were related to its heavy involvement in the Streetsport programme, organised through the Denis Law Legacy Trust, which offers free activity sessions for youngsters across the city.
Meanwhile the documents from SRUC show two purchases, which were both refunded, for a Slovakian website which describes itself as “your number one resource for the best online movies, games, books and music.”
A £499 purchase on the website guitarguitar.co.uk was made on an SRUC card in September 2017.
The college said the first two were made in error by a member of staff, while the third was for a piece of wireless presentation equipment.
Each of the higher education institutions explained that the expenses for pizza and coffee were as part of meal allowances or were bought in for student events.
Meanwhile, the flowers were only bought as gifts for staff members and alumni or for decoration during graduation ceremonies.
A spokeswoman for UHI said: “The expenses are for staff members travelling between university sites or to the central belt and beyond.
“We reimburse the cost of reasonable meals and refreshments for staff on business trips proportionate to the length of their journey.”
Alan Simpson, president of the Highlands and Islands Student’s Association, said: “With funding to our universities and colleges being more and more restricted, it’s becoming more important than ever to keep a close eye on finances.
“It is vital that there are checks and balances in place to ensure that these finances are not misused, and transparency is a key part of that.”