EXETER’S Vice-Chancellor, Sir Steve Smith, is to be paid a massive £830,000 total as part of a special end of career remuneration package. This has been determined by a remuneration committee who have decided that this amount is justified. The package is around double his regular £424,000 salary, which is still around quadruple the annual pay of any other academic staff. However, whilst university staff are increasingly discontented with their own pay and quality of life, the time just isn’t right for a huge pay package for one individual whose salary is already a point of contention.
Sir Steve, who you might also know by his more affectionate name, Sir Stevey Boi, is the effectively the head of the University of Exeter. As such, he is responsible for leading the University and determining its direction more broadly, alongside his responsibilities in the Senate, our main disciplinary body. Sir Steve is also a professor of International Studies and has worked in the higher education sector for years. It is undeniable that the VC does a lot of work, and he is probably a very intelligent bloke. Denying this would be factually inaccurate.
Here’s the first problem: plenty of hard-working, experienced, intelligent people at the University of Exeter, and the world at large, aren’t rewarded over £800,000. For some comparison: according to the University of Exeter’s website, the salary range of a Professor is £67,000-£111,000, the maximum for a Senior Lecturer is £58,089, for Lecturers it is £43,267, and for PhD Research Associates, £34,189.
If Sir Steve were to step down from his role as VC and take on a regular professorial role, then his regular salary would be reduced by around 75% at the very least, and much more for 2019.
If we lived in a meritocratic world (and, to be fair, plenty of respected scholars have pointed out that we don’t), this would mean that in a regular year the VC would be doing roughly quadruple the amount of work that senior professors do, and eight times their work for this year. In addition, he would be doing almost ten times the work of a senior lecturer.
While it is near impossible to quantify the amount of work various academics do, arguably the extremely long hours, hard work, and plethora of unpaid overtime which lecturers and clerical staff alike go through means that the VC’s £800k package comes as a bit of a slap in the face.
Secondly, at a time where the University College Union is balloting its members on pay, the gender pay gap, and casualisation in general — and when its November ballot revealed nearly half of its members were prepared to strike over the same things — the news of Sir Steve’s pay package comes at a poor time. The University claims that the package is a reflection of the VC’s “commitment and outstanding performance”, but where is the same treatment for the rest of workers on Exeter’s payroll? I would echo the statement of a member of the UCU, who said that this is evidence of there being one rule for executives, and another for regular staff.
Thirdly and, perhaps, most worryingly: such a dramatic financial gift, and Sir Steve’s wage in general, comes at a time when the commodification of higher education is worsening almost on a yearly basis. From the recent TEF-triggered tuition fee increases to recent government-proposed plans to introduce two-year courses, the value of teaching is understood more and more through numbers in a bank account.
The VC’s salary furthers the feeling that we are in a corporate structure, not an educational one.
Instead of fuelling an excessive pay discrepancy between top and bottom at Exeter, why not use the extra £400,000 (which is, evidently, just laying there ready to be spent) on something else? How about something more vital and pressing, which enhances the University, or the world at large?
Why not the Provost Commission? Why not decolonising the syllabus? Why not widening participation? Why not AU joining fee subsidies? Why not the Guild? Why not 1,600 students’ TEF tuition increases? Or, basically, anything except executive pay increases?