EDINBURGH University paid to transport its new principal’s pets from Hong Kong as part of a £26,000 removals bill for his belongings.

The higher education institution confirmed funding the 6,000-mile switch for Peter Mathieson’s cat and dog amid a row over lecturers facing cuts to their pensions.

Lecturers at Edinburgh will go on strike tomorrow to oppose proposals by Universities UK, which represents the institutions, to alter their pensions. Colleagues across the UK have already taken industrial action.

Under the pension plan the Universities Superannuation Scheme will move from a system giving members a guaranteed sum in retirement, to a less generous “defined contribution” scheme.

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents teaching staff, believes the proposal would leave a typical lecturer £10,000 a year worse off.

However, the ill-will felt towards the proposals is said to run particularly deep in Edinburgh as a result of the “welcome” package given to Mathieson, who took up his post at Edinburgh this year after being vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University.

Mathieson will receive a basic salary of £342,000 – over £80,000 more than was paid to predecessor Timothy O’Shea – as well as £42,000 “in lieu of pension contributions,” and £26,000 in relocation costs.

The deal, which makes him the highest-paid principal north of the border, also includes use of a lavish "grace and favour" home in the capital.

On Friday, the University provided further details of the £26,000 package approved to help Mathieson physically make the move from the former British colony to Scotland.

Edinburgh bosses hired an “international removal firm” to manage the packing, freighting and delivery of the principal’s furniture and possessions.

The eye-watering arrangement included ensuring that the principal’s two pets followed their owner.



Pictures from the picket line. Staff protest about the pension cut plan

In an email to staff this month on the strike Mathieson spoke of the “moral obligation” the university had to students.

He wrote: “I am also clear that, as a university, we have a moral obligation to seek to minimise the disruption to our students. On the days of proposed strike action (February 26-28 ; March 5-8; March 12-16; and March 19-20) we can expect to be functioning with fewer staff and so there may well be some disruption to some students.”

Ross Greer MSP, education spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: “Given the wildly over-inflated pay package Mathieson was given, it would hardly have been a stretch to expect him to pay for his own pets’ travel. If university bosses can find money in their budget for this, then they can stop making a dog’s dinner of changes to the pension scheme which is causing staff who have spent their entire careers contributing to cutting-edge research and educating the next generation, to go on strike.”

Mary Senior, Scotland official at the UCU, said: “Staff will feel angry and insulted to learn that there’s money for the new principal’s pets, but not for university workers’ pensions. Principals keep getting away with astronomical pay hikes, perks and bumper pensions, while all too many lecturers and support staff at Edinburgh are on precarious contracts, pay is stagnating, and now their pension is under threat.”

A University spokesman said: "We engaged the services of an international removal firm through the Scottish Government Procurement Framework to manage the packing, freighting and delivery of Professor Mathieson's furniture and personal belongings, including pets, from Hong Kong to Edinburgh. We agreed a single fee for the whole service of £26,061.03 including estimated insurance costs of £148.80.”