By Harry Cross
Students, staff and common rooms have the fight of our lives this term. Last year, the university’s Business Process Review part 1 (BPR1) led to severe cut backs and redundancies among support staff, especially in colleges. As a result, college services have come under significant strain. Remaining college staff are now overworked and underpaid, often on less than a 12-month salary. Now, the university is preparing BPR2 which will result in further cuts and could signal the death knell for colleges as we know them.
The reason for these budget cuts is the chronic underfunding of UK universities by Labour and Conservative governments. The university’s senior management have long believed that Durham’s staff bill, especially in colleges, is a large fixed cost that should be reduced as an efficiency saving.
Our staff bill is indeed large. But then, why are we going after the jobs of the lowest-paid staff in the university? Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge is paid roughly £300,000 per annum, double the salary of Boris Johnson. Palatinate has reported how Professor Corbridge has work-related business-class flights paid for him by the university, a luxury that most private firms do not award their CEOs.
Stuart Corbridge is surrounded by a slew of other senior managers with similarly astronomical pay, office budgets and expenses. It is this ‘senior leadership team’ that imposes cutbacks and redundancies on our lowest-paid staff, even though their own salaries are never subjected to efficiency savings.
The argument in favour of paying university managers six-figure salaries is that this helps attract the best and brightest to Durham. However, unlike the college staff who are being made redundant, most of our senior management have no long-term commitment to the North East. Most of them come to Durham between other managerial roles, or from a military background.
Professor Corbridge has work-related business-class flights paid for him by the university
They want to use their time in Durham to leverage a higher-paid job somewhere else, perhaps in the United States. Pushing through a difficult staff restructuring, unpopular expansion plans or toxic performance goals are preferred ways to do this.
Rather than being inspirational manager-leaders, senior executives in UK Higher Education are best compared to a plague of locusts, swarming from one institution to the next, destroying the livelihoods of students, residents and workers while they progress in their careers.
So who are the staff we can’t afford? We must ask whether our model of senior management is fit for purpose. We should do away with imported Vice-Chancellors and Pro Vice-Chancellors who expect six-figure salaries to come here. Instead, Vice-Chancellors, like heads of department, should be recruited from ordinary staff for two or four year periods and earn similar salaries. Then, they can hand over to their successor and return to their previous role, therefore living with the consequences of their tenure. This would save money and create a less toxic working environment, where managers have knowledge and compassion for their region and institution.
The current inequality in pay reflects an inequality in power. Wealthy men paid by student fees and public money are attacking the working conditions of local staff with already modest incomes. This must be resisted at all costs.
Photo credit: Terry Straehly via Flickr