Bradford College has stood by its decision to spend £24,000 on a decorative mace for its graduation ceremonies.
The purchase has been described as a “crass bit of judgement” by the lecturers’ union and “offensive” by a member of College staff.
Designed by the upmarket jewellers Fattorini, the mace was approved after the cost was reduced from the initial quotation of £35,000. Minutes from a governing body meeting to discuss whether to buy the medieval club noted concern at the expense, which “would be a sensitive issue in times of budget cuts”.
In response to criticism, the College said the mace was financed by corporate sponsorship and would be “symbolic of the achievements, success and aspirations of the College and its higher education students.”
Maces play a decorative role in graduation ceremonies, providing a symbolic representation of an institution’s authority. There is no legislation stating that they need to be used.
It is ridiculous to spend so much money on such decorations at a time when cuts are hitting students so hard.”
Julie Kelley, regional official for the UCU, which represents 500 lecturers at the College, said: “It’s appalling that the College is spending £24,000 of its income on a bit of bling.”
At a time when jobs are being axed, staff pay is being driven down and lecturers hit with attacks on their pensions, Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, said this is “an outrageous misuse of funds”.
A lecturer at the College, who would like to remain anonymous, said: “It really is quite an offensive message to send out. When you think that [money] could have been spent on employing a support worker to assist a student through the year.”
The lecturer highlighted that Bradford is one of the poorest cities in the country. “If I was a student coming from one of the inner city wards here, having to scratch around for bus fare, I think I would be quite offended by the College spending money like that.
“We don’t have paper to give out to students, we don’t have pens to give out to students, there are a whole host of other things that could be paid for.”
The lecturer added that there is a “top dressing attitude” at the College, which is focused on making things “look good”.
The College holds graduation ceremonies once a year and Ms Kelley pointed out that it could have commissioned students in its welding department to design and make a mace as a project. Wooden maces can also be bought at a much cheaper cost – from a couple of hundred pounds.
Pete Mercer, vice president the National Union of Students, said: “It is ridiculous to spend so much money on such decorations at a time when cuts are hitting students so hard.”
The union said the money could have been used to provide full £30 per week EMA payments for at least 18 students a year, buy hundreds of text books, or save a teacher’s job.