Since the controversial rise in tuition fees in 2010, and another rise which the government attempted to gently push past students earlier this year, it feels like the floodgates have opened. The cost of higher education is spiralling out of control, and it is students like myself who are losing out.
It makes the recent revelations regarding the mammoth scale of Vice-Chancellor’s pay an even more bitter pill to swallow for students. Accounts for Bath Spa University have shown that a staggering pay package of £808,000 was given to Vice Chancellor Prof Christina Slade for her final year in the role. This payoff includes £429,000, almost twice her normal salary, for what they have labelled “loss of service”. That came just days after Prof Dame Glynis Breakwell announced she was resigning from the University of Bath after a row over her salary of £468,000.
Andrew Adonis – the man responsible for introducing tuition fees, but who has since argued they should be scrapped – decribed Slade’s salary as a “sick joke” and said that if £808,000 was value for money for a Vice Chancellor then “I’m the Emperor of China”. Adonis highlights the problem with our university system, and the ludicrous justifications for such an excessive wage. Apparently the measure is to stop British chancellors being poached by American universities. But US universities charges students more per year on average than in Britain. Many of these are private institutions like Harvard (almost $60,000) or Yale ($48,000). The large revenue they generate allows them to pay the big wages, while UK universities cannot and should not compete on that scale. On the ground, in the age of tuition fees, university vice chancellors are becoming figures of hate, and symbols of institutional greed. Stories like those from the Bath universities remind students of the sheer financial disparity between well-paid staff and themselves.
I am a second-year student at the University of Warwick, currently paying £9,000 every year. University was somewhere I was always likely to attend. I come from a low-income family which values hard work and academic achievement, so when it was announced that fees were to rise to £9,000 I just had to get on with it. That is still what I am doing. Study now, worry about money later. But as part of the first generation to pay such fees, I notice young people are genuinely fearful about their futures. Prior to univeristy there was little to no financial advice given on fees, aside from a few workshops on how loans are paid back. At university there is even less information. I wish that there was a clearer indication of what exactly I am getting for my money, and how to manage my resources accordingly.
Prof Stuart Croft is my Vice Chancellor, earning over £280,000. I have personally never met him. I no doubt will not see him until my graduation. I am not certain on what the role of a vice chancellor is, what they actually do or where they go.
If I did meet a vice chancellor, I could make plenty of recommendations as to where the money from a pay cut could be spent. Divert our fees to the things we need to improve our financial prospects in the long term. Use it to lower the cost of accommodation, where rents can exceed £150 a week. Raise the bursary threshold to take into account the rising costs of living and education.
And then of course, there is the appalingly low pay for those staff further down the ladder. Last year, the University and College Union (UCU) analysed data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and found that 53 percent of UK academics are on insecure fixed-term contracts. In 2015, 42 per cent of staff on casual contracts struggled to even pay household bills. They are the real hard workers, the ones who actually provide the value for money. I want my seminar tutors and other junior academics to be given more for their efforts. They often work long hours assessing students’ work while doing their own. They have my respect; I see them putting in the hard yards to improve our academic performance. When I leave Warwick, it will be them who I will thank for their dedication and commitment to ensuring that I go into the next stage of my life with the best possible chance, not the overpaid vice chancellors we students rarely see.