David Eastwood, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, has announced his forthcoming retirement and seen fit to reward himself with a £61,000 “performance-related award’ bonus. This will be added to an already hefty salary of £399,000 in 2020. This is an increase of £10,000 in his total earnings since 2019.
Those who have witnessed Eastwood’s `performance’ over his time as VC have come to know him as the Machiavellian embodiment of marketized education management. During the pandemic many Russell Group Vice Chancellors kept up the pretence of being “all in it together” by having a slither cut out of their enormous salaries. But Eastwood could not bring himself to take on this pay cut. Instead, it is the students and staff who have been made to foot the bill.
Under a marketized education system, there have been attacks on real-term wages, increases in workloads, greater use of casualised and short-term contracts and the sustaining of a 15% gender pay gap. Not to mention the attacks on staff pensions, which were the main cause of industrial unrest which occurred throughout 2019 and 2020. Lecturers were set to lose approximately £240,000 from their pensions, with professors being set to lose up to £750,000.
Clearly, the burden of cost-cutting has been put onto staff, meanwhile management has maintained its lavish wages . This drive to cut costs as possible has not only put staff under strain but also students, worsening their education and living standards. The rent of these students has still been demanded despite national lockdowns preventing some of them from setting foot in their accommodation.
As a response to their own exploitation at the hands of a greedy marketized education system students have gone on rent strike. The action from both students and staff reveals the growth of radicalisation and militancy on the basis of events, their experience of education has been one of being put intentionally at risk in order to keep university landlords topped up., This is the reality of education under capitalist society.
This approach, that sees higher education run like a business, has driven Eastwood to exercise a huge degree of negligence in multiple areas. Firstly, concerns for welfare and exam detriment policies have been disregarded. Staff and students have been endangered as a result of their forced return to campus for the first semester before proper health and safety measures had been implemented.
Eastwood has also put the prestige of the university first in their inadequate response to the recent ‘gay conversion therapy’ scandal and refused to defend the rights of the LGBTQ community.
The welfare of staff and students has been sidelined to make way for more profitable ventures such as the new campus in Dubai and the building of vanity projects such as the £56 million extension of the University train station.
During Eastwood’s time as VC, mental health support funding has been slashed, staff and students have been increasingly overworked and those who are struggling to keep on top of their studies have to negotiate the additional obstacle of the library’s budget being frozen. It must be emphasised that these problems are not endemic to Birmingham but can be found throughout the world as education, in a capitalist world, is transformed into a commodity.
So, after all this, it begs the question, does Eastwood deserve a bonus for good performance? The answer is a resounding no! A man who refuses to condemn the torture of gay men and refuses to prioritise the welfare of staff and students does not deserve an eye watering bonus. Someone who will slash mental health services, freeze library budgets and refuse to refund students on rent paid for accommodation they haven’t set foot in, before taking a pay cut has no place in our education. The answer remains the same, get rid of these fatcats!
Our demand is simple and justified. Universities should not be run by a grossly overpaid, greedy VCs, who sit on top of a pile of wealth and do nothing to contribute to the educational experience. The university should be run by the students and staff. Only when universities are run in the interests of students and staff, will the problems caused by the marketisation of education be permanently rectified.
Tom Wood (Birmingham Marxist Society)