THE principal of St Andrews University has been criticised after it emerged she spent more than £1 million of university funds upgrading her official residence in order to entertain visiting academics, dignitaries and potential sponsors.
• Dr Louise Richardson became university principal last year. Picture: TSPL
At a time when higher education funding is under the spotlight, Dr Louise Richardson requested the work on University House, an imposing Victorian mansion complete with chandeliers and a flag room.
The overall cost to the university has now reached close to 4m, as the School of Art History, which had occupied the building, was forced to move to new premises. This triggered a "domino effect" due to the refurbishment of other suitable accommodation for displaced staff.
Politicians and student leaders said the university could not "afford to be out of touch with their students' lives, operating in an entirely different world" and said the spending needed to be examined.
University House was formerly the residence of the principal, but in 2001 the previous incumbent, Dr Brian Lang, described it as being "inappropriately large and grand" to be his home. It was then converted to house the School of Art History, where Prince William studied for a while.
However, prior to her appointment in 2009, Dr Richardson expressed concern that the university should provide a high-profile principal's house in a prime location "conducive to receiving and entertaining leading international academics, potential donors, sponsors and benefactors".
Details of the work have now been seen by The Scotsman following a Freedom of Information request. It shows the cost of the renovation, originally estimated at 750,000, was 1.18m.
In order for Dr Richardson, who is also vice-chancellor of the university, to move into her new residence, the School of Art History had to be moved from University House to a property in North Street in the town.
University staff who had been accommodated at North Street had to shift to the newly purchased Greyfriars School.
Renovating the North Street property to house the School of Art History came to about 850,000, and purchasing and renovating Greyfriars School for displaced staff was approximately 1.95m. Contingencies added a further 370,000.
The moves were agreed by ruling body the University Court. This was after the first option of buying a house in the historic core of the town had been rejected on cost grounds. The second option, which was chosen, was deemed as advancing elements of the university's "estate strategy" by providing decant space for the move of one or more schools.
Claire Baker, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and Labour's higher education spokeswoman, said: "For any university in this current financial climate to spend that kind of money on what will be a private residence is concerning.
"At a time when we are seeing budgets tightening, gifted students going without places at university and redundancies threatened across the sector, the directors at St Andrews University really need to ask themselves whether this is the best use of the money they have."
Kevin Dunion, the university's rector and the first Scottish Information Commissioner, said: "The University Court approved the refurbishment of University House, which cost just over 1m. Far from impacting adversely on the ability to spend on teaching and research facilities, the investment in University House is part of the strategy to attract significant funding for such projects."
Andrew Keenan, president of the university's students' association, who attended a number of meetings where the renovation of the principal's residence was discussed, declined to comment.
However, one student, Mufadal Jiwaji, said: "The university needs as much money as it can get hold of to improve facilities for students rather than doing up the principal's home when she could easily have moved into Dr Lang's old home."
A university spokesman said: "The refurbishment took place as a consequence of a series of planned redevelopments and property moves in 2009 designed to improve efficiency.
"It is important to stress that Dr Richardson and her family live in a flat on the third floor of the residence. The remainder of the property comprises public reception rooms, guest rooms and annexed accommodation for visiting academic staff.
"The total cost of the refurbishment of University House was 1.18m – and not 4m as has been claimed. This is a value-for-money investment in a facility which will play a key role in a multi-million pound fundraising campaign."
High-profile academic is first female principal
DR LOUISE Richardson, the first female principal of the University of St Andrews, is a high-profile academic who strongly believes the university must tap into "private philanthropy" if it is to continue to compete on the world stage.
Dr Richardson, 52, an expert in international terrorism, was previously at Harvard University where she was executive dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
She has said St Andrews needs to be "more creative" in generating income to fight off the global recession.
Born in the Republic of Ireland, Dr Richardson gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal Magazine earlier this month where she described how the IRA had attempted to recruit her to their ranks while she was a student at Trinity College Dublin.
Unusually for a university principal, she was photographed for the interview in "fashion-shoot" style, wearing expensive designer jewellery and clothes including a pink 1,632 Dries Van Noten trench coat and a 700 Lanvin necklace.
She was appointed in January 2009 and is Scotland's third highest-earning university head, on a salary of about 240,000. During her installation as principal last March, Dr Richardson spoke about the difficulties surrounding university finances and repeated her call for the university to build an endowment system to tap into the generosity of former students.