Happy Christmas. It looks like all of your presents are coming early this year. As the chair of the USS pensions scheme you have presided over the largest deficit of any UK defined benefit pension fund in the history of the UK. Setting aside the dubious choices of investment that happens to include investments in cluster bombs, tobacco, the arms trade, and fossil fuels; rather than address the deficit through a sustainable and responsible approach from University employers who are, according to PwC and Ernst and Young, in an extremely propitious financial position, you are instead involved, neck deep, in what UCU have nationally described as the worst offer from employers in the last 20 years. And now, as a result, you have staff in every institution in the land being balloted for strike action.
But of course it hardly stops there does it? This week more than 200 academics at our University (at the time of writing) have signed an open letter against the extortionate pay of yourself and your senior management team. As the letter notes you have, via your position on your own remuneration committee, earned almost £3m since you were appointed as VC. The average pay of your senior management team is a staggering £163,949 per year, double the national average.
Without drawing on overly radical or revolutionary publications in directly criticising your good self, the Guardian suggested that you could expect to be ‘reserved a special circle in neoliberal hell’ for your role in the commodification of our education system. In contributing to the Browne review you are on the record as advocating £16,000 tuition fees for undergraduates, and, in addition, played a direct role in unleashing market forces on our education that are driving down quality, driving down costs, while at the same time, driving up fees, driving up huge surpluses, and, of course, driving up your own enormous salary. And then there is Lord Andrew ‘Che’ Adonis who has already called for a parliamentary debate should Vice Chancellors, like yourself, not ‘resign’ or accept salary caps.
And then we come to the local dispute and how our own staff and students are treated at this institution. Staff are being forced out, bullied, harassed, and victimised in breach of all of the University’s own regulations on disciplinary processes so that you can pursue poorly informed performance management tactics chasing the latest market metrics. First it’s the REF, then it’s grant capture, then it’s misuse of MEQ feedback to support the TEF. What will be the next fashion for which you chase often vulnerable people through excruciating and humiliating procedures so that they can be forced out? Does it matter to you if a colleague has a life threatening medical condition? Or a family? Or is the only academic in a specialised area? Or is closing down specialist subjects areas so that you can, instead, pack out lecture theatres of over 500 students paying as much as £20,000 each in huge internationalised cash cow courses simply too important to care?
For Christmas this year you have two strike ballots all at once, local and national, both partly of your own making. But this is not just a staff issue. While you fill your deep pockets students cannot access the hardship fund for lack of resources. Our funding for PhD scholarships is being cut to derisory awards of as little as £4,000 to £5,000 per year (after fees) for ‘full stipends’ so that post graduates are living in poverty. And if they make it through that? Then our junior researchers can look forward to a career in the most casualised University in the Russel group.
The cost of student housing is increasing sharply, according to your own website a typical stay in private accommodation will set students back over £7,000 a year. And yet you don’t even pay the living wage as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation! Your latest pay offer for the lowest paid support staff, according to Unison, amounted to a pay cut as it was so far behind inflation.
In writing this to you, I don’t want to know how you sleep at night; I want to know how you eat mince pies at Christmas time when students in this city are forced to eat from food banks. I want to know how you feel in your chauffer driven Jaguar when students are too poor to travel home to see their friends and family. The truth is, Sir David, we don’t need you. You represent everything that is broken with our higher education system. What we need is a democratic council at University level with elected academic representatives from across the Schools and Colleges; reps from student halls and from courses; reps from post-grads, and from support staff, and from every group with a material interest in the future of our workplace, our education, and our shared prosperity. We can do your job better than you, and for less. Please, for the love of the very best that this University represents and for the best that it may yet become; give us all an early Christmas present. Resign.
A Birmingham PHD Student and Teaching Assistant
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