STUDENT poverty and debt will not be solved by just curbing vice-chancellors’ pay, says the NUS, student grants must be restored.
Sky-high pay among university chiefs is ‘hard to stomach’ but tackling it will not alone solve the higher education funding crisis, a National Union of Students official has told MPs. ‘There are wider issues for students,’ Amatey Doku, NUS vice president, told the Education Select Committee earlier in the week.
Student maintenance grants for lower income students which were scrapped last year, should be reintroduced ‘as a key priority’, he argued. He called for an overhaul of the entire higher education funding system in England which, he said, was leaving too many students facing poverty and debt.
Nicola Dandridge, who runs the new higher education watchdog, said vice-chancellors’ pay must be addressed.
‘Some salaries are out of kilter,’ said Dandridge. The level of some vice-chancellors’ pay is the subject of ‘legitimate public concern’ Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, told the committee’s inquiry into value for money in higher education.
She said new rules meant ‘that anyone being paid more than £150,000 a year be required to justify it’. University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘The current system for setting and monitoring senior pay in universities is broken.
‘Tinkering with it cannot solve the problem. We need a complete overhaul. ‘Vice-chancellors must be removed from the committee setting their pay and there must be full transparency around the reason for any pay increases.
‘Staff and students should be on those committees and full minutes must be published. If the sector wants to retain any public confidence it must stop trying and defend the status quo and the huge pay rises and pay-offs, and accept it is time for change.’
Joshua Ogunleye, National Secretary of the Young Socialists said: ‘The only way to alleviate student debt and poverty is to abolish all university fees, restoring free education. The full maintenance grant must be restored to each and every student to ensure that they have enough money to pay their rent, buy the equipment and books they need and to be able to live while they study.
‘The only way to achieve this is for lecturers and students to unite in nationwide strike action, backed up by a general strike to bring this hated Tory government down.’
Glynis Breakwell recently resigned as vice-chancellor of Bath University. She was the highest-paid vice-chancellor, on £468,000 a year and retired with a ‘diamond hand-shake’ awarding her in total over £800,000 in severence pay, pay and awards.
University professor Dr John Cookson from Bournemouth in Dorset said: ‘If rip-off fees guaranteed a university education of excellent quality they might be defensible. They do not. The university system is a self-serving bureaucracy whose sole aim is “bums on seats”, hence maximising financial returns and fat-cat salaries.
‘The vice-chancellors are the most obvious targets with their grossly inflated salaries but there is a whole massive gravy train of pro-vice-chancellors, deputy-pro etc. Much of the actual work is done by poorly paid academics often on zero-hours contracts.
‘One course I taught had 50 students in the first year, then 125 and 180 in subsequent years. The course was a nonsense with these vastly increased student numbers so I withdrew from teaching it after the first year.
‘At another institution with which I was associated the principal spent hundreds of thousands on an unnecessary refurbishment of his suite of rooms while he was sacking “redundant” academics who were very close to retirement. All of this happened years ago but continues today. My view, based on decades of observation, is that university heads are frequently greedy, bullying incompetents with no detectable managerial skills and no commitment to the scholarship, teaching and research which are what universities are supposed to be about. Close examination of their salaries and performance is long overdue.’
Michael Carley the President, University of Bath University and College Union said: ‘The debate around the remuneration of university vice-chancellors reached a new low with Andrew Adonis’s call for the archbishop of Canterbury to look into the issue.
‘As a contributor to the current system of university finance he should appreciate the challenges faced by universities in the current environment and the distinct and rare combination of knowledge and skills needed to lead them.
‘He should also realise that even the highest-paid vice-chancellor’s salary has no material effect on student fees. I’ve studied and worked under almost a dozen vice-chancellors, all outstanding scholars and leaders who have helped to create a higher education system that is the envy of the world.
‘Universities are among the most complex organisations in existence, balancing multiple challenges that range from achieving research and teaching excellence across fields ranging from the humanities to sciences, medicine and engineering while contributing locally, nationally and globally culturally, socially and economically.
‘The typical UK vice-chancellor has shown an ability to deal with these issues effectively. No wonder their talents are in demand globally, unlike the politicians with whom they are compared. The debate is a convenient sham. It takes attention away from the scandal of executive remuneration in British industry where governments have talked long and done nothing.
‘Equally, it is a useful distraction from discussion about the real issues around university finances and student debt. If, however, Lord Adonis wants a financial issue for the archbishop to examine, perhaps the £70m a year cost of the Lords or the average cost of almost £100,000 for each of their lordships would be start.’
Emeritus Professor Tom Cannon from Manchester said: ‘Regarding university vice-chancellors’ salaries, much the same thing happened when further education colleges were sort of privatised in 1992. A gravy train was constructed and rapidly exploited.
‘Principals were told that they were running quasi-independent businesses and urged to emulate private sector practice. Not surprisingly, pay consultants were rapidly summoned and undertook benchmarking exercises that resulted in substantial pay rises for principals – what better way of guaranteeing annual consultancy fees from satisfied clients?
‘There followed mergers and acquisitions, sales of once-public assets, dodgy deals, downward pressure on pay and conditions and insecure work contracts, all the glitz of the private sector in fact, and ever increasing rewards for the overburdened chief executives, as the principals were now called.’