University of Surrey's President and Vice-Chancellor Max Lu. Photo: Handout
University of Surrey's President and Vice-Chancellor Max Lu. Photo: Handout

Professor Max Lu, an authority on chemical engineering and nanotechnology, joined the University of Surrey in the UK as President and Vice-Chancellor more than two years ago.

When the university appointed him a delighted spokesman exclaimed he was one of “only 150 double highly cited academics in the world, with over 500 peer-reviewed articles published in top journals, attracting more than 31,000 citations.”

But earlier this year Lu found himself in a storm following an exposé by the UK’s semi-public broadcaster Channel 4, which investigated expenses claims by Britain’s vice-chancellors.

The station revealed that Lu made his university spend £1,600 (US$2,065) of public money transporting his pet dog, a Maltese called Oscar, from his old home in Queensland, Australia.

The money was part of the £15,000 relocation allowance allocated to Lu when he relocated his family in 2016, Channel 4 found.

The five-figure sum was among £7.8 million of public money spent by British universities on expenses for their leaders over a two-year period.

It comes days after university workers throughout the UK began a month of walkouts in the latest stage of a bitter dispute over pensions and allowances.

But the University of Surrey defended the payment and said it had paid “reasonable relocation expenses” when Lu moved from Australia where he led the University of Queensland.

A spokesman told local media: “As is normal practice with the relocation of permanent staff internationally, the university paid reasonable relocation expenses for Professor Lu and his wife to move to the UK.

“The total cost of this move was £15,000, which included shipment of personal possessions, visas, flights and the relocation of the family dog, all in accordance with the established guidelines.”

It has also been revealed that the university paid £2,610 for Lu’s membership at an exclusive private club popular among scholars, the Athenaeum in Pall Mall near Buckingham Palace, where prospective members must be nominated by existing ones.

But the same spokesman insisted the outlay was a “cost effective” way for Lu to have meetings in London.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show Lu used his university credit card to pay £2,610 to the Athenaeum in London in early 2017.

An internal review of the package for the university’s senior management is ongoing, and students at Surrey continue to demand that the university make public all expenses claims made by Lu since he was appointed.

As the first Chinese vice-chancellor in the UK, Lu once told Xinhua that he owed his success to Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up of China.

Lu was born into a rural family in a poverty-stricken area in Shandong province. He sat the national college entrance examination in 1979, two years after the end of the tumultuous Cultural Revolution and was admitted into the Xi’an-based Northeastern University. There he completed his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, and stayed on to work at the university after graduation.

Lu was among the first batch of Chinese students heading for overseas tertiary institutions in the early 1980s, joining in an exchange program in nanotechnology with a scholarship from the University of Queensland, Australia and graduating with a Ph.D.

He then became a lecture at the then newly-established Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

He returned to Queensland to join his Alma Mater, rising from senior lecturer to chair professor and later serving as Provost and Senior Vice-President at the University of Queensland.

In 2015, Lu stood out in the global selection for the vice-chancellorship at the University of Surrey.

As the new head of the University of Surrey, Lu has spared no efforts in fostering ties with institutions in China, and the university has seen a spike in admissions of students from mainland China, who now make up around 20% of the total student headcount.

He has also pledged during a meeting with students that he would serve as a guardian against China’s possible infiltration and theft of intellectual property, since the University of Surrey has long excelled at satellite and mobile communications research, in particular in the development of 5G technology.

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