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Revealed: University’s multimillion-pound travel expenditure

Over the past three years, the University of Aberdeen has spent over £5m on airfares alone

By: Anttoni Numminen

Principal George Boyne on a trip to Qatar - Photograph: Abdul Basit/The Peninsula

It has been revealed that over the past three years the University of Aberdeen (UoA) spent over £7.8m on travel expenditure.

The information, obtained by the Gaudie through a Freedom of Information request, showed that expenditure has come down annually from £2.67m in 2017 to £2.52m in 2019 and includes modes of transport such as airfares, bus, taxi, ferry, and vehicle hire.

The single most expensive mode of transport was airfares, which amount to just over £5m between 2017-2019, averaging £1.6m every year and accounting for more than half of each specified year’s travel expenditure.

The University’s travel expenses are separate from those of AUSA’s which, for e.g., cover societies’ travel expenses.

Commenting on the disclosure, a University spokesperson said: “These figures show a reduction in the University’s expenditure on travel over the last three years and of course the figure will be massively reduced this year as a result of Covid-19.

“While some travel will remain an important part of the conduct of University business, we are committed to finding ways to reduce the volume and impact of travel in the coming years.

Full UoA travel expenditure as provided in response to FOI - Screengrab/The Gaudie

Speaking to the Gaudie, a Fossil Free Aberdeen spokesperson said they welcomed the positive steps taken by UoA in trying to meet its sustainability goals, but also called on the University to “choose alternatives to flying wherever possible”.

“The information uncovered in this freedom of information request is quite startling and highlights the need for wider investment in alternative forms of travel besides air.

“Perhaps the most surprising thing is the sheer amount of money spent on travel in general by the institution and begs the question of whether all this travel is completely necessary. Research in certain academic fields, particularly the physical geosciences, for example, cannot be done without carrying out some in person, international fieldwork, but this can always be reduced and done in a more considered manner”, said the society.

Earlier this year an FOI request by the Gaudie revealed that Aberdeen City Council spent £4m on travel over the same period of 2017-19.

However, 3rd-year Politics and IR student Braiden Smith said the expenditure “probably isn't too bad” as it would likely benefit both staff and students, such as those going on mentoring schemes to other cities. Smith also emphasised the importance of the University maintaining international connections.

“It's also an important way to recruit academics by covering their expenses.

“Although I do reckon the Uni will probably reduce spending on this in the future as a lot of things are bound to move online going forward and they pay more attention to their environmental impact”, said the PIR student.

AUSA’s vice president for Communities, Radeen Moncrieffe, said: “We’re pleased to see a decrease in the University’s travel expenses, however, there is still a lot of work to be done to reduce the air travel. Doing so is the only way for the University to achieve its net-zero carbon emissions target by 2040. The University must also divest in fossil fuels and we look forward to working with the University to achieve this.

“The pandemic has forced us all to adapt to new ways of working and shown us that we are able to do most tasks online. There is an opportunity for this to be a positive learning experience for the University and for it to consider the necessity of travel going forward.

“AUSA has also been working with the University’s Active Travel team to encourage both students and staff to consider and adopt sustainable forms of travel.”

The University did not respond to the Gaudie’s question on whether it would make a commitment to reducing its air travel in the future.

However, the spokesperson said a “wide cross-section of views” would be sought from the university community, to look at how it can “build on the benefits and experience” of reducing travel as a result of the pandemic.

“Sustainability is one of the four key themes of our Aberdeen 2040 Strategy and one of the main areas of focus for our new Sustainability Steering Group in 2020/21 is to convene a working group to examine business travel and related emissions. This is an important element in our wider discussion about net-zero and emissions reduction.

“The pandemic has shown us that there are many different ways of engaging with colleagues globally. We will examine how best to build on these experiences as well as encouraging lower carbon travel modes where possible.”


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