A university spent hundreds of pounds hosting a one-day conference on the “transcultural phenomenon” of children’s toy My Little Pony.

The University of Brighton spent more than £400 hosting the nine hour discussion on the 30 year history of the brightly coloured horse toys, which attracted just 18 delegates.

Campaign groups have questioned whether the university’s funding of events on children’s toys as well as a study into penalty shoot-outs were delivering “lasting academic value”.

The university made a £16 profit from the My Little Pony event in June, according to figures obtained by The Argus, after 14 attendees paid £30 each to hear discussions on the gender representation and mythology issues of the six inch figurines as well as its links to poetry and photography.

The event attracted academics from as far afield as Finland but did not fill the 45-person capacity venue. The university also revealed an academic study into the best method to score a penalty took 200 hours of research.

The work of Dr Nick Smeeton, the report’s co-author and the university’s principle lecturer in sport and exercise psychology, is estimated to have cost nearly £2,500 in salary costs.

The study was part of Dr Smeeton’s continuing research into movement perception, which the university said has relevance to both sport and other forms of movement in daily life, and was published in the British Journal of Psychology.

The study concluded that penalty takers should rely on fake moves and trickery to score rather than power or placement.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers Alliance, said: “Every penny spent by a university has to deliver lasting academic value, both for the student and, down the line, for the economy. Eyebrows will be raised about whether that is the case for studies on penalty shoot-outs and children's toys.”

A University of Brighton spokesman said the university was committed to “a broad portfolio of applied research” that often had low profile but with high public benefits.

He said recent research successes included low-cost disinfection processes for cholera treatment in Haiti, clear exhausts and fuel-efficient engines that achieve economy benefits of 40%, research on gun crime that has changed government policy on gun licensing and life-changing therapy for diabetes patients.

He added: “We were recognised as one the UK’s leading post-92 universities in the quality rankings of the last national Research Assessment Exercise, support more than 7,000 jobs and make a contribution to the South East economy of nearly £700 million per annum.”