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Highbury College principal charged £150,000 to expenses account

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Stella Mbubaegbu spent £356 on a lobster dinner and cocktails

A college principal spent £150,000 on expenses over four years, including first-class flights and chauffeurs, it has been reported.

Stella Mbubaegbu CBE, leader of Highbury College, Portsmouth, is said to have made purchases including a £356 lobster dinner for four people.

The Department for Education said it was “deeply concerned” by figures published in the FE Week journal.

In a statement, Ms Mbubaegbu said the newspaper’s claims were “exaggerated”.

FE Week said it spent a year locked in a Freedom of Information “battle” with the college, which initially refused to release details of expenses claims.

The Information Commissioner sided with the newspaper in a ruling published last month.

‘Budgetary constraints’

FE Week obtained more than 500 of the principal’s credit card receipts covering a period between 2014 and 2018.

It said Ms Mbubaegbu submitted claims for expenses including a £434 pair of headphones, a £220 dishwasher and a £175 chauffeured journey from Heathrow to Birmingham.

A flight to a sister college in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in 2018 reportedly cost £6,202.

In May, Highbury’s governors imposed a £2,000 limit on her credit card “in the light of budgetary constraints”.

They agreed that any future foreign travel must be authorised in advanced and on an economy class ticket.

Lunch and alcohol claims would not be permitted, they added.

The college recorded a £2.5m deficit according to its latest accounts for the year to July 2018.

In March, governors reported that the college’s last pay award to staff was in January 2013.

In a statement posted online, Ms Mbubaegbu said FE Week’s article “contains exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about my expenses.

“Many of the items listed…including a dishwasher from Curry’s and dozens of copies of certain books were clearly for college use rather than the principal’s.”

She said the college had a “robust and thorough process” for reviewing and approving any expenditure incurred by staff.

Ms Mbubaegbu said her foreign travel had helped to attract £2.5m income from international funds in recent years.

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Highbury College has not given staff a pay rise since 2013

In a statement, the education minister, Lord Agnew said: “The Secretary of State and I are deeply concerned by these revelations. I have already asked the FE Commissioner to urgently look into this matter.”

The University and College Union (UCU) said: “The principal’s spending on Michelin-starred meals and high-end hotels sends a damaging message about the college’s priorities.

“It is all the more galling given that the college has been pleading poverty on pay.”

Ms Mbubaegbu, 63, was appointed to the principal’s job in 2001 and became a CBE in 2008 for services to further education.

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