This article first appeared on DUSA Media.

Members of Dundee University’s highest governing body started the academic year with a £4,500 weekend retreat at a four-star Hilton hotel, DUSA Media has learned. 19 of the University Court’s 23 members, along with various University officials, attended the two-day getaway. Among them was Iain MacKinnon, president of Dundee University Students’ Association.

According to the University’s policy officer for corporate governance, Dr Christine Milburn, the total cost of the retreat was £4,507.50, excluding transportation expenses. She estimated that the latter would be “a few hundred pounds at most.”

The Court met on 5 and 6 September at Dunkeld House in Perthshire. Located “in 280 acres of picturesque Scottish countryside,” the hotel offers “luxury accommodation,” a health club and a spa, according to its website. It was chosen for its cost-value ratio, location, facilities, availability and flexibility, Dr Milburn said. Alternative venues would have cost between £4,100 to £7,500, she said.

In emails to DUSA Media, Court members defended the retreat. Dr Milburn denied that student fees paid for the weekend. Such a claim would be “misleading,” she said, because the Court’s budget is part of the University administration’s, which in turn is paid for by College contributions based on the University’s total income. According to figures provided by Dr Milburn, tuition fees accounted for 17 percent of the University’s income in 2011-12.

DUSA president Iain MacKinnon said that by being away from campus, Court members “are removed from routine distractions so that uncluttered thinking can prevail, especially when working in smaller groups.”

The rector’s assessor, Bernadette Malone, made a similar point. The retreat gave the Court a chance “to discuss and explore in detail ways to enhance the quality of the learning experience for students” and other issues, “all of which benefit students and staff,” she said. The assessor represents actor Brian Cox, who students re-elected as rector last year, on the Court.

The Court, an institution unknown to many students, oversees the employment of staff and manages and administers the University’s properties and finances. Its obscurity, Mr MacKinnon said, was an “underlying issue here – so few students are aware of what Court actually does that when they see money being spent on it they understandably want to know what they, as students, get from this.”

University secretary Dr Jim McGeorge said that more could be done to make the Court’s work more transparent. He said that the retreat was particularly useful for those members who are neither University staff nor students and are not compensated for their time. For them, the “retreat provides concentrated time to get to know the other Court members, build effective relationships that are beneficial for the governance of the institution, and … provides dedicated time to really understand and discuss difficult issues.”

According to Dr McGeorge, it was the Court’s first residential retreat in 12 years. Both he and Ms Malone said such getaways were not unique to Dundee University.

Six senior University officials, among them Dr Milburn in her capacity as clerk to the Court, joined the retreat for the entire weekend. Nine other University representatives only attended meetings held on Sunday.

Standard disclosure: DUSA Media is part of DUSA. But you already knew that.