In Britain today, you don’t have to look far to find people getting rich helping vampiric institutions feast on society. From the tax-dodging bankers at HSBC to the ever-available shills in Westminster, if there’s a fast heap of pounds to be made at the expense of others, the modern British professional is your man.
“I do want to have the standard of living that my professional background would normally entitle me to have,” was the former MP Malcolm Rifkind’s justification for using his publicly funded job as a calling card for private enrichment. All he did was inadvertently sum up the staggeringly entitled and arrogant carelessness of a whole class of individual who have ceased to see anything more in work than the number of zeros on their bank statement.
This week, a survey published by UCU, the University and College Union, secured the place of corporate university executives in the pantheon of Great British Wealth Extractors.
The survey reveals that university vice-chancellors, who recently voiced their opposition to Labour’s proposed cutting of tuition fees, are paid an average salary of £260,000 [$390,000] a year. In the last five years, their salaries have increased by 26 percent, while the academics teaching students and doing research have seen their significantly lower pay drop 12 percent in real terms.
The top ten earners among the vice-chancellors received between £392,000 [$590,000] and £623,000 [$938,000]—that final salary being pulled in by the outgoing head of Nottingham Trent, Neil Gorman. To be fair, he probably earned it.
After all, Nottingham Trent is definitely in the top three universities in Nottingham. A special shout out must also go to Exeter University’s Sir Steve Smith, who last year somehow managed to spend £23,749 [$35,786] on flights (99 percent of them business or first class) and £20,329 [$30,632] on hotels. Even Vince Cable has called this level of pay “hard to swallow.”
Why does this matter? Because these executives are implementing a corporate system that is turning universities from places of learning, designed to turn students on to the many wonders of the intellectual life, into businesses providing a service to paying customers. In doing this, vice-chancellors and their fellow administrators have become hated by the very people who, along with the students, are meant to be at the heart of any university: the academics.
While the debate about tuition fees is an ever-present in British political discourse, the effect that the corporatization of our universities is having on the people who teach in them and how this process is destroying a higher education system that Britain could once take justifiable pride in is less talked about.
Since 1998, when Tony Blair’s Labour government introduced fees of £1,000 [$1,500] a year for students, the “real world” benefits of an education—getting a job, earning more money—have become the only things university administrators push onto their students and professors.
The idea that you might go to university in order to learn new things or for an “enlightening experience,” as the dictionary defines “education,” is an idea that is being crushed in favor of an anxiety-inducing corporate model that sees students saddled with debt and teachers angry and depressed. It is an educational model that perfectly fits the bland, soul-crushing, privatized world we live in, one that knows the price of everything but the value of nothing.
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