We must stop treating universities as businesses, and take action against our VC's unfair pay


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Well and truly into 2018, Scarlett Sherriff asserts that one New Year's Resolution we should all have and keep is to fight the high salaries of university Vice-Chancellor's

We’ve all made - and likely already failed to keep - a whole host of New Year’s Resolutions.  Luckily, I’ve got a fresh one for the new term that should be a collective effort with all us Bristol students: let 2018 be the year that we finally tackle the injustice that is astronomical, corporate level Vice-Chancellor pay, and the marketization of our education.

Last year Epigram revealed that our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Hugh Brady, earnt £282,472. Shockingly that is nearly double what the Prime Minister earns, which, according to Full Fact, is £150,402 per year).

More unjust is the fact that it is approximately eight times more than the salary of a starting lecturer - £33,943 to £41709 - quadruple the amount of average senior lecturer pay - £41, 709 to £54,637 -and more than double the amount the most highly paid professors earn - £107, 244. Given that it is our lecturers who we learn from it makes perfect sense that in a recent Epigram survey 65.6% of respondents voted that our VC’s salary is unfair.

He’s not even the top-earning VC, absolutely not at all.  Glynis Breakwell of Bath University was made to step down in November because her £482,000 salary was revealed. Except, she didn’t resign, she’s conveniently going on a ‘sabbatical’ and between this August when she is due to step down and February 2019 she’ll be on full pay.

Perhaps more concerning than the ostentatious use of a public education establishment’s money - money which comes from student loans and kind donors - is that in response to a question from ITV News about whether the job could be done for the Prime Minister’s salary she had the audacity to say: ‘you asked me whether someone can do a really good job if they’re paid less, I think that that’s possible, whether they would do a really good job if they were paid less is a different issue’.

Shockingly, [the Vice-Chancellor earns] nearly double what the Prime Minister earns
I’m no expert, but that is not the attitude I’d expect someone supposedly working in the national interest, for the public good and especially in the interest of the next generation to have. She talks about the ‘market rate’, to justify a salary that is around 20 times more than the average salary in the United Kingdom.

Is Breakwell actually worth that much more than other public service providers, for example nurses who look after our sick relatives, firefighters who bravely risk their lives in the midst of an atrocity like Grenfell, or social workers, who help broken and dysfunctional families (after all, they all get paid by the tax payer)? The answer is clearly no, and it’s not her but the neoliberal, trickle-down business model she’s advocating that we need to fight against, because it isn’t trickling down.

Related article: University of Bristol releases Vice-Chancellor salary

According to the UoB website, Vice Chancellor responsibilities include being ‘Academic leader and Chief Executive of the University’, ‘chairman of Senate’ and the ‘University’s principal representative in all its external relations’. Meanwhile Mrs May’s got Trump, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia to deal with, she leads a whole country’s government, and has plotting Tory rebels to contend with whilst taking the decisions on a whole nation’s politics.

Both are paid by the public purse, but VCs earn more because a ‘market value’ is placed on Vice Chancellors, whereas the PM’s wages are capped. This is because even though our Student Loans come from the government, so that politically universities are public, they get legally to call themselves ‘private sector institutions’- as though they are businesses.

We finally tackle the injustice that is astronomical, corporate level Vice-Chancellor pay, and the marketization of our education
We need to stop treating Vice Chancellor’s like they are CEO’s. I’ve just studied a semester in France, and I can safely say that what makes the British education system sought after is not how much money it has, nor the swanky facilities, but the fact that it views knowledge, creativity and critical thinking as intrinsically valuable. My course mates who have also studied abroad would say the same.

Of course, Bristol must compete; we wouldn’t want our university to fall behind. So the University of Bristol itself isn’t in the wrong, and our Vice Chancellor is just doing a job at the going rate. It’s the system that is the problem and as students it’s our moral duty to fight against the ideological business model imposed on us before we’ve even had the opportunity to study and before our lecturers have even had the chance to share the hard-earned subject knowledge for which they’ve worked towards for many years.

We’ve got to tackle this on a national basis. It’s not about singling out Vice Chancellor’s, because we need to fight the overall ideology through how we vote in elections, through going on marches like the National Education Demo, or just in a simple refusal to view our own education as merely a currency. Drawing on my time in France, maybe a strike would help?

Either way, whether it’s medics who don’t want to be shoved from university into an ill-funded NHS that treats doctors more as machines than people with a vocation. Whether it’s arts students who just want to study and set their own future rather than be funnelled into a corporation’s graduate scheme, or science students who want to specialise in researching an important but niche, unprofitable subject it’s in all of our interests to take a stand.

As the next generation, we should be deciding whether we want our country to be corporate and money-orientated or human and purpose-orientated.

As young people, we voted overwhelmingly against the current status quo in the last General Election. We’ve got to keep up the fight.

Featured Image: Flickr/ diamond geezer

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