University of Bolton………..the “Harvard” of the north (turns away and sniggers!)

A struggling university is paying up to £100,000 to send all 700 of its staff for stays at a luxury hotel. The breaks in the Lake District are being organised by the University of Bolton so its controversial vice-chancellor can give pep talks.

Prof. George Holmes

Prof. George Holmes

Professor George Holmes, who was recently lent almost £1million by the university so he could move house, owns a private yacht which is moored less than ten miles from the hotel. The four-star Lakeside Hotel and Spa on Windermere is 70 miles from campus and usually costs about £220 a night for a room with a view of the lake.

The university says the one-night ‘working residential’ trips, for which it pays all the travel, food and accommodation costs, are an ‘informative’ and ‘valuable’ way to discuss strategic aims. It has organised 20 breaks as part of its staff development programme. The first was in September and the last will be in May.

Professor Holmes, a former adviser to Labour whose yacht is moored at a marina on Windermere, addresses each group ‘engaging directly in dialogue in respect of the strategy’. The university, which in 2013 was ranked worst in the country in two guides, said feedback from employees had so far been positive.  But according to Times Higher Education, a source at the university said staff were ‘amazed’ by the scheme because it ‘must cost a fortune’.

A university spokesman said it ‘considers this an appropriate developmental investment in staff to underpin the growing strength of the university’.  The spokesman said it was part of a multi-million-pound investment in teaching and learning infrastructure, adding: ‘For the avoidance of doubt, the yacht belongs to the vice-chancellor personally and is operated, maintained and moored at the vice-chancellor’s own expense.

‘The yacht is not university property and has no relevance to the university’s current staff development programme taking place at the Lakeside Hotel.’ The four-star Lakeside Hotel and Spa (pictured) on Windermere is 70 miles from campus and usually costs about £220 a night for a room with a view of the lake

Last month, it was revealed that the University of Bolton gave Professor Holmes a two-year £960,000 loan to buy a house nearer the campus without him having to sell his home in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. The move was to save him a 100-mile round-trip, allowing the 53-year-old, who took up his post in 2006, to ‘play a greater role’ in the university and the town.

Professor Holmes, who in 2013 was paid a £47,200 bonus on top of his £198,200 salary, bought an imposing Edwardian detached house, described by estate agents as a sublime example of the Arts and Crafts movement. It is understood the £920,000 property acts as both his personal home and a space to host VIP dinners and events connected with the university.  The loan, at a 3.25 per cent interest rate, is due to be paid back once the Wakefield home is sold.


The University of Bolton (or Bolton Technical College as the locals call it) has a very poor reputation and one of the highest “drop out” rates by students of any higher education establishment in the UK. It is often jokingly (?) said that to get on a degree course at Bolton you have only to be able to “stand up and walk in a straight line” and they will welcome you as part of the last Labour governments “widening participation” scheme.

I am all for opening up higher education to those who traditionally have never gone into higher education, but to lower standards to such an extent that many students cannot display basic levels of literacy and numeracy does nothing for the reputation of education in the UK,  misleads the students and creates unrealistic expectations about jobs.

Why there was ever a need to create a “university” in Bolton is beyond comprehension. There are well established universities in Salford, Manchester (2), Preston (UCLAN), Edge Hill, and Lancaster all of which are within easy travelling distance.

If I was paying £9,000 per year for the pleasure of attending the University of Bolton I would be asking why my hard-earned fees were paying for staff to go on “jollies” to the Lake District!


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