Uni­ver­si­ties UK re­form agenda is ‘long over­due’

Sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tion should rep­re­sent in­sti­tu­tions, not just their lead­ers, says v-c. Anna McKie writes

THE (Times Higher Education) - - NEWS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Sec­tor lead­er­ship in the UK is “not fit for pur­pose” and re­form of Uni­ver­si­ties UK is “long over­due”, ac­cord­ing to one vice-chan­cel­lor.

Speak­ing at Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion’s THE Live event, An­thony Forster, the vice- chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Es­sex, said that Uni­ver­si­ties UK should not be a rep­re­sen­ta­tive group of vice-chan­cel­lors “but the rep­re­sen­ta­tive group of uni­ver­si­ties, of which vice-chan­cel­lors rep­re­sent their com­mu­ni­ties”.

Mis­sion groups cre­ated a dy­namic that was “not al­ways as con­struc­tive as it might be”, Pro­fes­sor Forster (pic­tured above right) said. Dis­tinc­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent groups could be un­help­ful, be­cause world-class re­search was go­ing on across the whole spec­trum of uni­ver­si­ties in the UK, he said.

“The re­form agenda [of Uni­ver­si­ties UK] is long over­due and I want to be a cham­pion and an ad­vo­cate for that,” he said.

Also speak­ing on the panel was Ed­ward Peck, vice-chan­cel­lor of Not­ting­ham Trent Univer­sity, who crit­i­cised the sec­tor for not re­spond­ing quickly enough to im­por­tant is­sues such as the furore over vicechan­cel­lor pay.

“Once it started, some of the state­ments that were made were un­wise,” he said. “It’s part of a broader malaise that the univer­sity is not re­spond­ing fast enough to the ex­pec­ta­tions or per­cep­tions that staff, stu­dents and politi­cians have of the sec­tor.”

One of the ways to avoid the up­roar “was for some of the v-cs not to be paid so much”, Pro­fes­sor Peck added. “I do find it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand how we get the sit­u­a­tion where the per­son run­ning the univer­sity, which is quite a tough job, is earn­ing twice as much as some­one run­ning a hospi­tal in the same city, which is a re­ally tough job.”

How­ever, Pro­fes­sor Peck added that he did be­lieve in per­for­mancere­lated tar­gets, in­clud­ing for his pay. “If you go on the univer­sity web­site, you will find a de­tailed ac­count of the [key per­for­mance in­di­ca­tors] for the univer­sity, how we’ve done and why I’m paid what I’m paid. It’s as sim­ple as that.”

Chris Day, vice-chan­cel­lor of New­cas­tle Univer­sity, agreed that the sec­tor re­sponse was too slow, but added that he felt the chairs of uni­ver­si­ties’ gov­ern­ing bod­ies had been too silent through­out the dis­cus­sion. Vice-chan­cel­lors’ salaries are set by their re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees.

“They could have at least ex­plained where those num­bers come from,” Pro­fes­sor Day said.

He added that univer­sity lead­ers were of­ten quick to de­fend their salaries by say­ing that their in­sti­tu­tions are not en­tirely tax­payer-funded and are more akin to the com­mer­cial sec­tor. Pro­fes­sor Day said that, if that was the case, they must ac­cept that if they do not do well, their salaries should re­flect that.

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