During the UCU strike earlier this year, there were revelations about expenses claimed by university vice-chancellors for luxury hotels and pornstar martinis. Now, another scandal has broken. Members of senior management at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne have received over £600,000 in bonuses over the past four years, or about £9000 each, on average. Vice-chancellor Andrew Wathey received an £18,000 bonus last year on top of his £246,000 annual salary.
These lavish bonuses and salaries are being handed out to the same people who have claimed thousands of pounds from the university to cover the costs of a “corporate event” at a strip club in London. Quoted in The Guardian, staff members have said that that incident is “symptomatic of university management’s failure to address misogynistic culture.”
This blatant misuse of university funds, which is being rewarded with bonuses and large salaries, is all happening at the same time as the University and College Union (UCU) is balloting its members at Higher Education institutions for industrial action, calling for fair pay, equal pay, an end to casualisation, and a reduction of the excessive workloads. According to the UCU, members have see a 21% cut in pay, relative to the Retail Price Index (RPI) since 2009. Of course, this is all happening in the context of tuition rates being trebled from £3,000 to £9,000 in 2010, with a further rise to £9,250 last year.
This is all a symptom of the commodification and marketisation of higher education in the United Kingdom. Vice-chancellors and senior executives are charged with the task of running universities more like businesses, with a goal of making more money on the backs of faculty and students. Their successes in marketising education are rewarded with these obscene bonuses.
Whilst senior managers at universities are stuffing their pockets with cash, students across the country are faced with thousands of pounds of debt, an uncertain future, and all the associated widespread mental health issues.
It used to be possible to win reforms under the capitalist system, but as the world economy remains weak and unstable, these concessions are being eliminated one by one under the guise of austerity and “tightening the collective belt”. The only ones actually feeling the impacts of austerity however are the working class. As incidents like this show, the bosses are richer than ever. The only way to put an end to the corrupt lifestyle of university administrators is to put an end to the capitalist system which allows it to flourish.
by Alexander Sobieski, Newcastle Marxists