In the academic year of 2011/12 the Vice-Chancellor of Warwick University, Nigel Thrift, was awarded a pay increase of £42,000. He now receives a pay packet of £316,000 – earning over twenty-two times more than the lowest paid worker at this university (£14,202).

This is not unusual. Vice-Chancellors of the country’s most selective universities have received similar pay increases. These come at a time of continuing economic crisis, rising youth unemployment and falling intake of students from less-privileged backgrounds. This is symptomatic of widening social inequality and a mass transfer of wealth from poor to rich, public to private.

Widening inequality within higher education is driven by the marketization and privatization of universities. Institutions that were once for the public good are now being turned over to private, profit-driven interests. This is deliberately advanced by government policy on higher education. Our university system was once acknowledged as one of the best in the world. This is now being dismantled.

Unlike their Vice-Chancellors, university staff members have experienced a real wage pay cut. Made in the name of ‘growth’ and ‘efficiency’, these cuts go hand in hand with longer hours, less money and insecure contracts for postgraduate and junior staff members. This puts enormous pressure on staff and visibly reduces teaching standards, forcing us to ask: efficient at what?

At the same time, students are forced to take on the burden of financing higher education. While fees climb to £9,000 a year, bursaries are either cancelled or transferred to ‘fee waivers’; meanwhile, in universities like Warwick, maintenance costs are driven up by the construction of ever-more expensive accommodation. The vast post-university debt (£43,500) now facing less privileged students whose families cannot afford to pay up-front makes university education seem both risky and undesirable for many. This process is changing the perception of higher education from a public good to a private investment, from a communal right to an individual privilege, accessible only by the few, as demonstrated by falling applications from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The widening gap in pay between senior managers and frontline staff, and the debt forced on students, means that the university now reproduces social inequalities rather than contesting them. This undermines the university’s democratic function as a space in which free thought, debate and critical inquiry is fostered in order to give people the tools to challenge social hierarchies and play an active role in the public sphere.

Our opposition to the rising salary of the Vice-Chancellor speaks to a deeper opposition to the continuing marketization and privatization of higher education. The problems at Warwick University are problems for the entire university system under market logic. The management of this university is failing to make the case for the protection and promotion of the public university, so we must do it. The government’s radical restructuring of higher education has crept up on us, and we must act now if we are to resist – before it’s too late.

We contest these reforms to our university, however the voice of the student body has been reduced to customer feedback and merely tokenistic representation in the governance of this university. There is currently no space for dialogue over the future of our own university. We are occupying this council chamber in order to open that space, to start that dialogue and to make our voices heard. If we are to halt this government’s assault on the university we must make ourselves heard TOGETHER and begin to work towards an alternative. Join us. 

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  1. Anne Onymous says:

    Too much free time now your social studies exams are over?

    • Mark Bushell says:

      Is that it, best you can do???? THESE STUDENTS ARE MAKING A STAND show some respect! Health service an education being flushed down the pan, someone stands up an challenges it and all you can manage is sarcasm???

    • alexbirtles says:

      I respect all the students at Warwick who are making a stand. It is principled and in the interests of all students and staff and the university now and in the future. I hope the staff unions are with you. They should be. I have been involved in education as a state school teacher and educational publisher for 35 years. I am just glad to see this generation standing up and saying no. Respect to you all.

    • Alain Le Goff says:

      Pathetic comment cowardly hidden behind some silly name!
      These people are fighting for the future of the country.

    • Rahelly Cutting Ben-Meir says:

      Is it too hard to support students who are trying to challenge the unjust system that has evolved under this government?

  2. Occupythanet says:

    Work in university for a change, then get a job, and pay for your education! I’m not paying for you lazy bastards, you want to a decent education, pay for it.


    • Dan says:

      There are fewer jobs than people at university, let alone unemployed people at large. That is not the solution.

    • Stephen Barrell says:

      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m afraid you very much will be paying, and the cost will only go up. The rationale for moving from a system in which the state directly funded institutions to one in which individuals borrow the full costs of their degree against their future earnings was an annual saving of £3bn. This calculation was made on the naive assumption that universities would charge around £7k per year for their courses rather than the maximum £9k, the price that the vast majority of institutions have, unsurprisingly, chosen to go with. As a result, the Office for Budget Responsibility is now estimating that the state’s annual loan outlay from 2015/16 onwards will be in excess of £12bn. Whats worse is that the same government that optimistically predicted universities would choose not to charge the highest rate also predict that there will be a 32% default rate, and who do you imagine will step in to pay for that? The government tell us that these are short and medium term costs for a system that will ultimately save money, but the medium term in this case is decades, with the OBR predicting that repayments will only exceed state expenses in 2032, and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills predicting it will be after 2040. And this is if things run smoothly…

      So that’s what you’ll be paying, but what will your money buy? I won’t repeat what ‘Occupy Taksim, Occupy Everywhere!’ says below since the poster makes their point very eloquently, but I would add the following. When the money to universities was allocated directly, institutions had a level of security that allowed them to support a broad range of departments and courses operating at a rigorous standard. Now that universities are exposed directly to market forces both of these key elements of our higher education system have been destabilised: the viability of courses and whole departments now rest upon their ability to sell themselves to a market largely composed of teenage students that have been made increasingly conservative in their aspirations by the spectre of a £40k+ debt hanging over them when they graduate. Under these conditions core departments within universities, departments that are alive and well in the institutions of our international competitors, are beginning to disappear, and others are dramatically reshaping their courses to capture as many customers as possible. At the same time, there is a perverse incentive for universities to lower their entrance criteria, to simplify their courses, and to redesign degrees so that they make the maximum impact on league tables which confuse ‘student satisfaction’ with educational impact. Fine, you might say, let the market decide what universities should be teaching and researching, they could do with being brought down from their ivory towers after all. But once our education establishments have been streamlined into conveyor belts for industry, pumping out happy but increasingly deskilled graduates, you might stop to ask yourself whether your money used to buy you more.

      The system the government has put in place is initiating an expensive race to the bottom, it seems a simple proposition to me that this should be resisted by everybody, students or otherwise, and that people who endeavor to make a stand against it should be praised rather than insulted.

      (All of the figures above are taken from the Intergenerational Foundation’s ‘False accounting? Why the government’s higher education reforms don’t add up’ which can be found here )

    • Ruth says:

      As someone who actually works at the University of Warwick (as teaching staff, no less!) I am glad to see undergraduate students taking a stand. As for the cost to the average taxpayer, I couldn’t possibly put it better than Stephen Barrell has done already.

    • Mike Cherry says:

      all students pay for their education from nursery to higher education. what you people seem to forget is that not everybody is guaranteed a £30,000 a year minimum income. attitudes like yours show that you neither know or understand how the average working person is struggling to live. You need to get out in the real world and see the harm and damage that is being inflicted on the average worker.

      • Chris says:

        Students are not removed from the ‘real world’ – I have three children who have graduated and they have not enjoyed. Salaries of “£30000”. In fact they have struggled but one has chosen to struggle more than the others and manages to live in Hanoi where she can feed herself for less than £5 a day while she works to help others to get off the breadline. We need to be careful of stereotypes of students and the working classes. Life is harder for everyone. These students , I am sure , are trying to make a stand against practices that impact on us all.

  3. Occupy Taksim, Occupy Everywhere! says:

    I’m not sure why there is an assumption that the occupying students are all ‘lazy’ and/or ‘social studies’ students. In any case, such ill-founded assumptions do not constitute an argument.

    It’s quite simple. It used to be that universities were fully funded, accessible to anyone on the basis of academic ability rather than class privilege or ability to pay. They levelled the playing field, and were fully funded because it was recognised that a well-educated society would be a more stable and harmonious one. The current round of privatisation is nothing more than the theft of a public asset for the benefit of a tiny minority of outsourcers and profiteers. The pay rise for the vice chancellor, whilst lecturers’ terms and conditions are driven down and ripped up, is an absolute disgrace.

    Want a decent education? Pay for it? I did – I graduated in the ’90s when it was still free, I’ve paid back more than the value of that education in taxes since then, and am perfectly happy to continue doing so. A university education benefits far more people than the just individual taking the degree – unless you want to live in a society without doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, airline pilots, biomedical scientists, architects, etc.

    Right-wing trolls – go away, you’re not wanted, and your ignorant prejudices will not dent the resolve of the students to take action.

    Don’t just occupy the chamber – spread the occupation, link up with others, and encourage the staff unions to join you. Follow the example of Sussex University. Escalate and make common cause with others, and you can win.

  4. martin and diane swain says:

    Get more publicity guys – local papers, radio. More people need to hear your message. Good luck

  5. @Occupythenet. I have worked for 26 years (since leaving school at 16), studied for a degree part time while working and paying tax. I am now about to go to Warwick University full time for one year to undertake a Post Graduate Certificate in Education – for this I am paying £9000. I am not a ‘lazy bastard’, I have worked, I worked damn hard to gain my BA(Hons) and yet even when I have completed my post-grad course I can only expect to earn approximately £22k – £25k. I believe you may need to rethink your ‘argument’.

  6. Danny says:

    This is a really important thing you’re doing – I wish you all the best!

  7. Bill says:

    Yes it is. On the same day that the occupation began there was news (Guardian) of a government think tank working on plans to privatise (sell) the student loan debt of previous years – which woiuld most likely mean the interest rates changing and breaking yet another “promise” made by government. The more privatisation with universities the more that becomes the norm. Well done for making a stand!

  8. Pseudonym says:

    I find it disingenuous that the £42,000 figure is quoted, but what is glossed over is that he took no pay increase in the two years prior, so that is really an increase of £42,000 over 3 years, rather than just one, meaning that it’s closer to pay increases of other staff in terms of proportion over the 3 years.

    Also, the issue of £9000 fees isn’t the fault of the university, it’s the fault of the government, and the university don’t gain money from this. Bursaries have increased at Warwick because of the fee increases, with £4500 available for those whose parents earn under £25k, £1500 for those whose parents earn under £36k and £500 for those whose parents earn under £42.6k; previously it was simply £1500 for less than £36k. You can argue that it should be better, but you can’t argue that there was no increase, and you certainly can’t argue a decrease. And the fact that part of the bursary for under £25k is a fee waiver is just that it makes more sense to do that rather than to just give them the money; it reduces the debt burden and means that you can’t waste it or end up simply with a lump of cash left over – it will help more!

    • Andrew Stone says:

      Which staff do you think a £42,000 pay rise over 3 years is proportional to? Admitedly he already had obscene remuneration, so while £42,000 is nearly double the median wage as a pay rise it’s a ‘mere’ 13.3% pay rise for him. But like most public sector workers I’ve had pay freezes for the last two years, and I’ve got another one promised next year. Perhaps you mean its proportional to the 1% who are doing very well out of the economic crisis. The rich list 1000’s wealth increased from £414 billion to almost £450 billion last year. Perhaps the vice-chancellor is feeling poor by comparison, but he’s still unimaginably wealthy compared to most of society.

    • Ruth says:

      Forget pay freezes – many teaching staff at Warwick have had pay cut during this time. Some of us are paid less than minimum wage once office hours, preparation etc are taken into account. Without us, there wouldn’t be courses operating at the University at all. Thrift is profiting at the expense of ordinary University workers.

      …and that’s before we even get onto the exploitation of cleaning staff etc (who are treated quite poorly by most academic staff in my experience).

    • Stephen Barrell says:

      I agree with Andrew and Ruth, whether its £14000 a year, or £42000 in a single hit its still a grotesque pay rise, both in terms of the broader economy and the university in particular, in which Thrift has presided over pay freezes, cuts, and casualisation for a large number of workers. A pay rise like this doesn’t reflect a change in the cost of living, its simply a decision to give the VC a lot more money while less powerful members of the university are made to feel the pinch. As a final slap in the face for everyone who contributes to this institution, as the VC’s money has gone up, the university’s position in the Guardian league table has gone down. Money well spent.

      As to fees, Pseudonym fails to understand the university’s relation to the government and the fee structure it has put in place. As a member of the influential Russell group, the university not only failed to challenge a disastrous reform to university funding, but actively championed it and has supported calls both to have the upper fee limit raised and to remove university commitments to provide bursaries to less privileged students (and lets face it, there were never many in this neck of the woods in the first place) in order to be able to redistribute the money to lucrative areas of research. Many of us voted for politicians who promised to oppose a fee structure that would damage our higher education system; many of us wrote to our MPs, signed petitions, and joined demonstrations: direct action is the politics of last resort, and under these conditions we are not only justified to demand that Warwick ceases to revel in the problem and become part of the solution, we are morally obliged to.

  9. Mark Bushell says:

    No one needs to be paid £316,000 pa plain and simple

  10. Dan says:

    The people criticising “lazy” social studies students have omitted to mention that Thrift himself does social studies, social geography. So is his “laziness” worth £316000? Is he qualified to write about, or indeed edit a collection on ‘new openings for the left’? And which department does your “lazy” thinking come from? Have you read Paul Lafargue’s ‘The Right to be Lazy’? Lazy.

  11. Andrew Stone says:

    This comment seems to have been awaiting moderation for the best part of a day. Feel free to delete it if it’s a duplicate….

    I’m very encouraged to hear that students are again challenging the pernicious priorities of the ‘Warwick University Ltd’ first identified by EP Thompson. I started my BA at Warwick in 1997, the year before fees were first introduced by New Labour (an attack announced weeks after they won an election with no mention of it in their manifesto). We were told they would not rise above the initial £1000 per year!

    One year we sent 10 coaches of protesters to demonstrate in London, but my proudest moment was proposing the motion in March 2000 for occupation of Senate House at a union EGM. This was prompted by a meeting of the Russell Group vice-chancellors which was strategising about how to push for top-up fees. We occupied for seven hours, created some flustered vice-chancellors and gave everyone a glimpse of our potential power. Unfortunately union sabbaticals (who had opposed the occupation until the very last minute) convinced people that the vague promises to ‘listen to our concerns’ represented the best victory we could hope for. My advice? When you’ve got the upper hand, drive the advantage home.

    I now teach working class sixth formers whose horizons have been cruelly reduced by the marketisation you are protesting. You are fighting for them and future generations too – and making common cause with university workers is a crucial step. Unity against austerity. Solidarity from Wandsworth NUT.

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  14. fleabite says:

    Reblogged this on Glasgow Anarchists and commented:
    Solidarity with the Warwick University occupiers opposing neoliberalism in their university.

  15. ella says:

    I am not a social student. Nor am i university educated. But I absolutely support what you are doing because what is happening to our state education system is not fair or democratic. I believe there are many people out there who believe the same as I do, and its a wonderful thingthat you are showing this can be faught against. Good luck. Ella

  16. Eddie says:

    WOW! About time students are doing something about it. We all believe in a good and fair Higher Education. Why students should pay for the leaders (bankers) negligence and gridy mistakes. Hope the University is supporting you all the way. We all DO. Well done all of you !

  17. Rahelly Cutting Ben-Meir says:

    Wonderful and I hope you get more to join you. The kind of earning mentioned creates inequality but it also encourages corruption and abuse of power.Have university Vice Chancellors decided to replace bankers and politicians in our social set up?

  18. Emma Lockwood says:

    I would be fascinated to know the different degrees that the twenty or so occupying students are studying. Would they kindly release this information? I am willing to bet that it is either a great majority or perhaps entirely arts and humanities degrees – not that that is at all a bad thing – assume from it what you will. Are there any maths, physics, chemistry or engineering students in your midst?

    • Krissie says:

      There are definitely people in there from a variety of degree subjects, including BSc… though I’m not an occupier personally.

    • Mark Bushell says:

      Really? You’d be fascinated????? and who’d really give a shit about your fascinations apart from yourself??? Please really, this is an issue that challenges things of a somewhat more relevant subject to the members of this wreck of a society that we find ourselves a part of.

    • alain le goff says:

      And what are you studying?

  19. Emma Lockwood says:

    I’m sure others would agree that the subject background which the students are coming from would be interesting to know. What subjects have they studied to ignite this passionate occupation? I would like to know if I am right in thinking that the number of scientific/mathematics students make up a much smaller proportion of the protest group than they do of the university as a whole. I myself studied philosophy.

  20. seanmidas says:

    i agree with Emma. is there any representation at all in the occupation group from science and mathematical students?

  21. Jonty says:

    I would also like to know if there are any Engineers involved. (whether or not Engineering is a science or mathematical subject is an argument you don’t want to get into with me :P)

  22. joe sanders says:

    Would have guessed there wouldn’t be any science and mathematical students involved -thanks for confirming that Dan 🙂

  23. Kim Gainsborough says:

    Sending support to all the occupiers. Good on you to take a stand.

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