In a recent speech, the Vice Chancellor of Oxford University accused the ‘mendacious media’ and ‘tawdry politicians’ of trying to tarnish the reputation of the higher education sector by pointing out the hypocrisy of her pay rises. Of course, it was a disaster of a speech all round, with the professor also claiming that it ‘wasn’t her job’ to protect students from homophobic harassment– but this was a particular lowlight.

It makes you wonder if she even knows what the word ‘mendacious’ means. The allegations of hypocrisy and extravagance aren’t false at all- the pay packets of senior academics and bureaucrats have significantly increased over the last few years, whilst the university fees of students– paid for with a lifetime of debt– have also been on the rise in Oxford and across the country. Other university staff have also seen their pay decrease. Even Richardson herself admitted that:

“My own salary is £350,000. That’s a very high salary compared to our academics who I think are, junior academics especially, very lowly paid.”

She claims the money isn’t coming out of the fee increases; the fee increases, of course, are only paying for the cuts to government funding. But that’s ridiculous. That money for those pay increases has to come from somewhere- whether it comes from the taxpayer, the student or is chiselled out of the salaries of more junior university staff. There isn’t a magic money tree, professor.

When the Vice Chancellor talks about ‘tawdry politicians’, she’s just referring to the left wingers who’ve dared to suggest that this practice; gouging the finances of university staff and students to pay for higher salaries, is unfair. But what’s really tawdry is lining your own pockets at the expense of the young people who are condemned to a life of debt, and staff who deserve better than a pitifully low salary or a zero hours contract.

Professor Richardson attempted to justify the extravagance. “We operate in a global marketplace” she said. Maybe that’s the problem. In the marketplace, global or otherwise, the rich get richer and everybody else gets poorer.

by Laurie O’Connel, Cambridge Marxists

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