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Staff hit back at Thrift pay

Written by: on February 6, 2013

**Fresh claims of the marketisation of universities have emerged as staff hit back against vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift’s pay freeze.**

At the time of Mr Thrift’s pay freeze in 2008, departments at the University were asked to make cuts to their budget. Since the announcement of Mr Thrift’s £42,000 pay rise, some staff and students at the University have expressed anger that Mr Thrift’s pay rose whilst departments are still asked to make cuts and savings to their budgets.

Some members of the University community, including staff and students, have questioned whether Warwick is increasingly becoming a business-model organisation, where the top management are awarded large salaries and staff further down the ladder are missing out. “There is a common and growing perception that the University regards post-grad and part-time tutors as cheap labour”, commented one tutor in the English department.

According to some staff, Mr Thrift’s pay freeze in 2008 marked the start of five per cent cuts to some departments, and the timing was made to show that the burden would be shared by both staff and management.

However, whilst Mr Thrift now enjoys a pay increase, members of staff have not seen a similar reversal to their salary or department cuts. Student Thomas Diamond, who supports the pay rise, said “the vice-chancellor deserves a pay increase in response to the increased wealth of the University.”

Some courses have also had to cut module hours to deal with the cuts, it has been suggested, with hourly-paid non-permanent staff having a reduction in teaching time.

One English department module, Medieval to Renaissance Literature (EN121) has been cut down from 20 weeks of seminar teaching over three terms in previous years to 17 weeks over two terms as of the last academic year (2011-12).

However head of the department, Catherine Bates, defended the change: “The Department changed the duration of EN121 … to bring it in line with other first-year core modules EN122 Modes of Reading and EN123 Modern World Literatures.”

However first year module The Epic Tradition (EN101) has not been subject to this alteration. Ms Bates responded: “EN101 is anomalous in having lectures continue into Term 3. This is on account of the syllabus particular to that module and allows for the equal distribution of lectures on each of the five texts studied.”

Ms Bates also declined to comment on Mr Thrift’s remuneration.

Although one member of staff in the English department, who wished to remain anoymous, voiced criticisms to the _Boar_: “I thought the VC’s pay freeze was supposed to be a gesture of solidarity when forcing departments to make five per cent savings in their budgets. Staffing levels were affected in a lot of cases; the library lost staff, for instance.

“Some people’s pay was directly reduced; in my department, the tutors’ hourly rate was changed to include things that had been previously paid separately. Some class sizes increased: extra work for the same money across the board.” The Students’ Union has lobbied for Warwick to place a cap on seminar sizes to a maximum number of sixteen students.

The English tutor continued “the bigger groups have probably contributed to the much-debated increase in the time taken to return students’ work”.

She added: I’ve heard lots of staff across campus talking about the VC’s pay rise, but not one word of support, probably because, while so many of the rest of us are struggling to do our jobs well and cover our bills, we don’t have the benefit of a 24% increase in income to help us.”

First-year English student Lucy McCarthy was also outraged that being the first year to pay the increased fees also coincided with cuts to the course: “It’s ridiculous how we’re paying £9,000 a year and getting reduced services and help from our university despite the increase in fees. It should be the other way around – if we’re paying more, we expect more”.

Another English tutor came forward to the _Boar_ anonymously. Now in a fixed contract, full-time position, five years ago he experienced the difficulties of part-time pay structuring: “This is a long-standing problem, but it seems to have intensified and to come into sharper focus in the context of pressures on university budgets and the increasing rationalization and marketization of academia.

“Frequently the pay is incommensurate with the amount of work part-time teaching contracts entail, especially in terms of preparation for seminars, lectures and marking commitments.

Frequently, second marking or moderating goes unremunerated. For post-docs these teaching contracts are often invaluable as a means to remain affiliated with a university while searching for a long-term position. However, the hours they involve mean that it’s easy to find yourself in what is effectively a full-time, if massively precarious, job, trying to get by on less than five, six grand a year. I’ve been in that position and the pressure it places on you to keep accepting piecemeal work on relatively poor wages just so as to keep afloat is immense and dispiriting.”

The English tutor added: “in general terms, I should imagine pay for tutors has increased incrementally over the last few years, in line with university policy (at least at Warwick); but the question is whether it has kept pace with the rising cost of living. I suspect, too, that more is demanded of tutors during their contracted hours, especially in terms of contact time with students, but also in terms of admin duties as part of the general rise in such duties with the increasing rationalization of the university.

“My experience has always been that part-time tutors end up doing more work and more hours than is allowed for in hourly-paid contracts, and so end up doing a lot of unpaid labour for the university.”

Nick Swain, SU president, said: “Clearly the University has experienced recent success which has been mirrored in the VC’s pay rise. Now would seem that the time for this success to be reflected in other areas. The SU is still in discussion with the University about how money can be better allocated to other departments through channels like the Academic Resourcing Committee and we hope to see tangible results in the future.”

Speaking to the _Boar_ when Mr Thrift’s pay rise came to light, Peter Dunn, head of communications said: “Our Remuneration Committee benchmarked pay of Heads of Russell Group Institutions in and determined an appropriate base salary which was in fact set at slightly below the average pay for Russell Group Heads of Institutions.

“This percentage increase in base pay after these years of pay freezes in fact broadly compares to the increases a member of staff with incremental progression had room would have received, with negotiated pay increases and incremements, over the period between 1 August 2008 and 1 August 2011.”

Sir George Cox, chair of Warwick’s Remuneration Committee, also defended the vice-chancellor. He said: “Under Nigel Thrift’s leadership Warwick has made outstanding progress on delivering its strategy to be a globally-connected University.”

This does not seem to be a University-wide issue, however. Some smaller departments do not seem to share these experiences. Referring to the period when Mr Thrift took his pay freeze, Professor Kevin Butcher commented: “the departmental graduate bursary scheme was cut for one year as a savings measure, though it was reinstated the following year and has run ever since.”

He added: “There haven’t been any changes to class sizes, and the only changes to module hours are initiatives that have come from within the department (e.g. an extra grammar hour for Greek and Latin Lit Texts).”

Dennis Leech, an acting-president of the Warwick The Warwick branch of the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) commented: “That Professor Thrift has been paid an extra fifty thousand a year will come as no surprise to the staff of the university who have been finding that salaries have become increasingly arbitrary and inconsistent for some time.

“A 20% pay rise at the top when hard-working front line staff get 1% shows the disconnect between senior HE managers and those delivering more but getting less. Staff doing similar jobs and with the same level of seniority often are paid widely different salaries because of market supplements or merit pay or simply when they were appointed.

“We think Professor Thrift ought to be doing more to protect the university against the forces of marketisation and competition, and we have called on him to become a member of the Council for the Defence of British Universities, something that, if he did it, would have a great effect.”

At the last Warwick branch UCU meeting on January 16 the following motion was passed overwhelmingly: “The Warwick UCU branch believes there is a need for more effective action to defend universities against neoliberal economic policies of increasing marketisation and competition, cuts in government spending and ill-thought-out regulation.” As a result, the branch resolved to: express their support for the Council for the Defence of British universities (CDBU), formally affiliate as a branch to the Campaign for the Public University and call on the vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift to join Martin Hall, the vice chancellor of Salford university, in becoming a member of the CDBU.

Third-year PPE student Michael Timmins defended Mr Thrift’s pay rise and the idea of a business model University: “Universities are becoming more private and thus more like businesses and this is how businesses work. Cuts sometimes have to be made to reshape the business and improve the areas where the business is strongest. Nigel Thrift’s hasn’t been excluded from these cuts, he’s had a three year pay freeze.

“His pay rise now is probably indicative of the increase in income the university has received as a result of this not to mention the fact Warwick is now the top graduate target, both of which prove his strategy is working. Beside the point, this wouldn’t be an issue for students if it wasn’t for some opportunistic campaigning by a certain presidential candidate.”

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