As the Badger reports this week, Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing has argued that in order for universities to maintain high standards of education, the tuition fee cap- which currently stands at £3,240 a year- must increase to a staggering £7,500. This announcement came as staff and students maintained picket lines at the entrance to campus, where staff are striking over the threat of compulsory redundancies.
The Independent newspaper refers to Farthing as “a leading university vice-chancellor” despite him presiding over swingeing cuts to departments and university services, sacking academics and support staff alike, and enthusiastically deploying riot police to subdue student protests. Similarly a huge turnout at USSU’s last EGM, the largest ever meeting held on campus, saw upwards of 850 students record an overwhelming verdict of no confidence in the vice-chancellor as he attempted to alter the very nature of the University of Sussex. So, not so much a leading figure as much as a widely discredited, out of touch, campus-wide hate figure, perhaps?
Referring to governmental review of student finances due to report later this year, Farthing said that though his was “very much a personal view,” he can not see how even raising fees to £5000 a year would suffice. Quite how Farthing can say his is only a personal view is beyond me. If it is so personal, then he should keep his ideas to himself instead of making these comments, which are of course easily latched upon by any political party intent on raising the cap. In a sense, it seems he is even pre-judging or influencing the debate around tuition fees by speaking out.
Unfortunately, this is yet another sad example of how our own vice-chancellor seems at odds with student opinion and reinforces the idea that his role is simply to manage the institution as a business, where the bottom line and profitability are much more a priority than serving the interest of students and staff.
It’s disappointing, and frankly insulting, that Farthing has time to speak to the Independent expressing such views whilst at the same time consistently failing to meaningfully engage with his own students and staff, as was highlighted in last week’s Badger (University “discriminates against disabled students”).
The inherent logic of the tuition fee model is that people who can afford to pay more, do so, while we increase schemes to widen participation for those who can’t. This is apparently enough to counter what would be the clear result of raising tuition fees to this level, i.e. making studying at university a viable option only for the wealthy.
Of course, there is no guarantee that the university currently does its best to provide for students who need financial assistance. There are 200 vice-chancellor’s scholarships but they use barely half because apparently there are not enough worthy candidates. Similarly, the alumni hardship fund is sparingly given out when it is the only one available to international students. Cheaper residences on campus are also being phased out, meaning less affordable housing for those who need it. In other words, while we tacitly accept tuition fees on the basis that the elitist effects of them will be negated by encouraging widening participation, we miss the point that we shouldn’t have to be widening participation. University education should be a right and we should not be here debating how far the cap must rise. Not only should it not rise, but for a truly equal and fair education we should be fighting for the right to free education, the kind that Farthing himself and the politicians who implemented top up fees were entitled to.
If the top 20 highest paid managers at this university took a ten percent pay cut, this would save around £240,000, enough to potentially save the jobs of five senior academics, or eight student advisors. How can we take Farthing’s call to raise tuition fees with any credibility when we know full well that management pay has massively increased almost every year in the last ten. A bloated top down management sucks resources out of higher education, and the increase in tuition fees will guarantee only that their pay continues to grow, and that a university education replicates the pervasive economic and social divides already so entrenched in our society.