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How universities can save millions – start cutting from the top.

28 September 2017 80 views One Comment

As 38 public universities face budget cuts from federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham where can they find their own cuts?

With the taxpayer salary bill for Vice Chancellors (VC) in excess of $34 million each year, the superstructure of Vice Chancellors, Deputy Vice Chancellors (DVC), and Pro-Vice Chancellors (PVC) is an obvious starting point.

Reducing VC’s salary packages from an average $1 million per annum to only just over three times the average salary for a full Professor, or about twice the salary of a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy, would still leave them a hefty salary average of $600,000, while at the same time saving the taxpayer about $12 million each year.

Extending these salary savings across the whole superstructure of VC’s, DVC’s and PVC’s would readily add a further saving for the taxpayer of at least $22 million per annum.

In total, while still ensuring higher echelon salaries in our public universities remain well above the salary average for ordinary Australian’s and for ordinary academics, the $34 million savings would make a significant contribution to funding our public sector universities.

Those working in the public sector university superstructure may well tell Minister Birmingham and the taxpayer that they manage businesses with average revenues of some $840 million. But they almost always neglect to explain that these savings largely comes from taxpayer dollars.

Clearly if the reality is that we are paying for their actual business skills then one would expect that over the past decade or so the private sector would have been busy poaching Vice Chancellors at an ever increasing rate and offering them even larger salary packages.

Our VC’s well know that there is no evidence that this has been happening.

While they pretend to be academic and fiscal heroes, Vice Chancellors are certainly not the new superstars of business management with businesses across Australia seeking to recruit them to manage their teams. The Uni chiefs may also trumpet all the export awards they have won, but again neglect to paint the full picture.

As they know, much of the pull factor to study in Australia is the chance to increase the possibility of gaining an Australian passport or, at the least, to stay safely rent-free in an Australian apartment or house investment property owned by family or friends back home, increasingly from the Indian subcontinent and from China.

Many of Australia’s VC’s also like benchmarking their salaries against selected overseas university salaries rather than against the correct comparison, which is with universities achieving a similar world ranking as their own.

When this comparison is made, our VC’s, like our politicians, are amazingly well paid.

Indeed, students and taxpayers may have a better understanding of why VC’s and their entourage of DVC’s and PVC’s are so happy to be photographed with their students when they realise that at our largest universities, like Melbourne and Sydney, the superstructure team’s total annual take-home pay each year exceeds $3,900,000.

So, over the coming months when our Vice Chancellors band together to cry poor, let us all remember that they are paid heaps more than most Australians, including actual heroes like Corporal Cameron Baird, VC, MG the 100th Australian to be awarded a Victoria Cross who was killed in action in Afghanistan in June 2013 while on a salary of less than $100,000 per year.

Our university VC’s are not Victoria Cross holders. They and their superstructure teams are extremely well-heeled public servants who can well-afford to absorb Mr Birmingham’s much-needed budget cuts.

Emeritus Professor Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 39 books, including the political satire, ‘Going Out Backwards: A Grafton Everest Adventure’, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Russell Prize for Humour Writing.

The New Daily, 28 September, 2017

One Comment »

  • John Conn (author) said:

    John Conn
    Here bloody here! The uni V-C’s also enjoy extravagant perks such as one-off houses built for them on campus. They swan around the country and the globe attending ‘conferences’ which mostly produce SFA, except top meals and a good booze-up, all the while pissing in each other’s pockets. A disgraceful waste of public money, especially as students struggle to pay their way through their over-priced and often over-rated courses. The tertiary sector badly needs an urgent overhaul from top to bottom.

    Don Williams · The University of Western Australia
    I think you mean Hear bloody hear!
    Like · Reply · 20 hrs

    Peter Smith
    With the average VC being funded by the public at the rate of 26 times the national minimum wage, and even backbench MP’s getting 6 times the minimum wage, it is time to put a salary cap onto public sector salaries. Simon Birmingham could lead the way by backing a private members bill to limit salaries for MP’s & Senators (including Ministers & their Shadows) to no more than 4 times the national minimum wage – that is a ceiling of $136,656 per year – whilst pointing out to university leaders and their governing Councils that he expects them to follow his lead. No doubt Scott Morrison, ever keen to cut wasteful public spending and to encourage people to find real jobs in the private sector would back such a highly popular bill to the hilt.
    Like · Reply · Sep 28, 2017 10:24am

    Robert Walker
    About time someone pulled the plug on the extremely high salaries the VCs and DVCs and the whole entourage of XVCs who pretend to run our universities. The real burden is felt by the many lecturers and profs who teach and research rather than sit in very fancy offices with many secretaries to bring them coffee, tea and wine when asked for. Cut out these poeple entirely. They add nothing worth while to university functioning and get paid far too much for doing so little of value. They keep restructuring for no reason at all – merely to justify their existence. If Simon Birmingham did something about this absurd situation of over pain and useless VCs I would think he had some value as well.
    Like · Reply · Sep 28, 2017 10:19am

    Anthony Murphy · Sydney, Australia
    I agree. Chancellors and PVC and VC earn ridiculous amounts. I did not realize just how out of touch these people are. How do justify over a million a year.
    Like · Reply · Sep 28, 2017 10:11am

    Maude Lynne
    An idea atributed to Theresa May is to limit the pay of all public servants (which is what VCs are) to no more than the pay of the Prime Minister, unless they can justify it be more.
    I doubt any VC could claim the job is harder than the PM’s.
    Like · Reply · Sep 28, 2017 9:47am

    Geraint Llywelyn-Roberts
    Correct too many people with their snouts in the trough.
    I thought Unis were about education not about greed and feathering your own nest.
    Needs sorting.
    Like · Reply · 1 · Sep 28, 2017 8:14am

    Paul Waight
    I couldn’t agree more, university hierachies are often top-heavy, over paid, and underperforming. But having said that, there are some excellent senior academics in technical management roles that perform well. As business managers, less so.
    Like · Reply · 1 · Sep 28, 2017 8:02am

    Kent Bayley · Gosford High School
    Universities are the epicenter of pomposity and class distinction. They need to be cut down to size and the top people on a million a year is disgusting. The State need only pay for secondary education and these young lefties demanding the tax payer funds them is socialism. Enough of the minority voices running this country.
    Like · Reply · 1 · Sep 28, 2017 7:09am

    Paul Maluga · Sydney, Australia
    Firstly, what is wrong with socialism? Secondly, Australia is inevitably transitioning from a manufacturing to a service economy. This means that the country needs well-educated young people to be the drivers of the future economy. The tax payer receives a net benefit on funding university placement – both in terms of recovered funds, net economic growth, and increased taxes – both personal and corporate. Slagging off the higher education system is the worst thing that can happen in this country at this time. We need more education rather than less!
    Like · Reply · 21 hrs

    Bob Westwood
    The administrative component of universities has expanded obscenely over the last decade or so. Lots of wannabe managers and failed academics swanning around in suits pretending to be corporates and inventing pointless changes in order to justify their existence whilst making the life of those who actually do the work, the academics (and the army of casuals who actually keep everything going), more difficult. Yes the fat could be trimmed … in more ways than one!
    Like · Reply · 3 · Sep 28, 2017 6:38am

    Kathy Banks
    I couldn’t agree more and this is an apt description of what is going on in the vocational sector as well. Huge overheads and salaries for bosses, continual restructure, many layers of management and “specialists” and very few hours available for teaching. It seems “new brooms” make matters worse not better allowing management to burgeon and demand more and more work from fewer and fewer teachers.
    Like · Reply · 2 · Sep 28, 2017 10:18am

    Andrew J. Smith · Budapest, Hungary
    Exactly, have worked in and observed from the fringes of education and training. Seems more about hollowing out and controlling teaching or lecturing (stop the spread of those nasty ‘liberal’ ideas to youth e.g. critical analysis), making educators easier to manage as just a cost and/or unit input with basic skills, pushing more online courses and box ticking of processes allows general administrative managers to have a career in education management.
    Like · Reply · 15 hrs

    Andrew J. Smith · Budapest, Hungary
    Universities have always been viewed as an existential threat to existing hierarchies; especially Kochs et al. via FreedomWorks etc. have attempted to discredit science etc. and supporting researcher or institutes that allow astro turfing.

    The following support many of the criticisms directed against administrative and corporate management doing the work of political idoeologues:

    https://www.insidehighered.com/…/new_book_argues…

    https://www.timeshighereducation.com/…/review-public…
    Like · Reply · 15 hrs

    Colin Martin Fulton · QUT
    Of course we could just properly fund tertiary education instead of constantly cutting it but then the LNP don’t like the idea of Unis being open to the hoi paloi.