Bradford College chiefs have come under fire for commissioning a top jewellers to make an ornate mace at a cost of up to £22,000 to “enhance students’ graduation experience”.

The move has been condemned as “outrageous misuse of funds” by one union and “ludicrous” by the city centre’s MP.

But it has been defended by the college which said the mace, by renowned jewellers Fattorini at its Birmingham workshop, would be symbolic of the college’s aspirations and achievements and the cost was met through sponsorship.

In response, Julie Kelley, regional official for the University and College Union, which represents 500 lecturers at the college, said it came at a time when cuts in funding had seen students’ education maintenance allowances scrapped and lecturers facing moves to change working practices.

She said: “To spend £22,000 on a medieval artefact for image purposes at a time of austerity and cuts, we think, is an outrageous misuse of funding.

“Whether or not the college is using normal funding or corporate sponsorship to purchase this particular item, we think the money could have been put to better purposes.

“For example, students have just obviously this year had their EMA cut by national Government, perhaps corporate sponsorship could have been used to back-fill some of that lost money for students that have got, say for example, severe hardship.

“So it could have gone in to supporting students rather than buying glitzy objects for graduation ceremonies.”

The college spokesman said: “Bradford College awaits the arrival of a graduation mace commissioned by the members of the College Corporation, financed by corporate sponsorship and produced by Fattorini goldsmiths, Birmingham, a company which has historic links with the city of Bradford. The decision of the Corporation was reached after proper debate, passed nem con and recorded in minutes which have been in the public domain for over nine months. Over the last 40 years, the college has gained an excellent reputation for delivering quality higher education and the mace is symbolic of the achievements, success and aspirations of the college and its higher education students.”

Bradford West Respect MP George Galloway said: “I think it is ludicrous. If there is a corporate sponsor out there with that amount of money to part with for Bradford College, which is a very worthwhile cause, then I could think of a hundred better ways of spending that money than on a medieval mace, which is presumably made to look medieval and isn’t even medieval.

“It is ridiculous – it’s the sort of thing that brings organisations and institutions into disrepute really.

“It’s exactly what we don’t need.”