Eastwood: ‘lack of generosity in the sector doesn’t speak well’

English sector needs a major review ‘more ambitious than Dearing’, says ex-Birmingham v-c at end of long career in sector leadership

January 28, 2022
Protest against university fees to illustrate David Eastwood who said ‘I have never met anybody who cares more about HE than I do’
Source: Getty
Unresolved ‘we have never fully addressed the funding challenge,’ says former Birmingham v-c David Eastwood

English tertiary education requires another major review, “even more ambitious” than the 1997 Dearing Report, according to Sir David Eastwood, who, at the end of his long leadership career, challenged “unreasonable criticism” by declaring that he has “never met anybody who cares more about higher education than I do”.

Sir David, who retired as University of Birmingham vice-chancellor last month after 12 years in charge, has been one of the sector’s most influential leaders and political operators, having also been chief executive of the former Higher Education Funding Council for England and a panel member on Lord Browne’s 2010 review of higher education funding.

As chair of trustees for the Universities Superannuation Scheme during ongoing pensions acrimony, as well as one of the sector’s highest-paid leaders and grandest of grandees at a time when universities were exposed to a damaging media and political storm over vice-chancellors’ salaries, he has been fiercely criticised by some academics.

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Sir David told Times Higher Education that the biggest future issue for the sector is that “we have never fully addressed the funding challenge…the questions of who pays, what do they pay for, and how is that funded”.

He said that if the £9,250 tuition fee cap “doesn’t move in this Parliament, and I’m sure it won’t move in this Parliament, then in real terms the value of the tuition fee will have fallen…probably somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent” on 2017 levels. But, he continued, “I don’t think we’ve yet got anything like a consensus in the sector, still less in government, as to how that should be addressed. Meanwhile…the student experience is eroded [by the fee cap freeze] and…you continue to tax students for access and participation [via their fees] in a way I don’t think is legitimate.”

Theresa May’s government set up the Augar review of post-18 education, which recommended a £7,500 fee cap in its May 2019 report. The Boris Johnson government is still to offer a final response to Augar.

Sir David argued that yet another, wider review was needed. Highlighting a “fractured” landscape at pre-tertiary Level 3 qualifications, he called for an examination of the “totality” of education through ages 16 to 23, examining “what young people need and what the country needs” rather than which institutions “get what from the funding trough”.

“I do think we need a review,” said Sir David. “I think we need something that’s even more ambitious than Dearing was,” he added, referencing Lord Dearing’s report to the government, which paved the way for increased higher education funding via tuition fees and for further expansion.

On vice-chancellors’ pay, one figure in government described it as hard to overstate the anger against universities still generated in government by that issue. Does Sir David, whose pay and pension package reached £460,000 last year, think he or universities more widely could have done things differently?

“It was an issue that was deliberately politicised,” he said. “And it was politicised to weaken the sector and weaken the position of the sector.”

The debate on vice-chancellors’ pay had seen an “inappropriate calibration” with the prime minister’s salary take root, rather than considering what appropriate benchmarks for universities of greatly varying size and turnover might be, he argued.

Sir David continued: “I was responsible at Birmingham, on the London Economics calculation, for one in 50 jobs in the city, or my university was. How do you want to evaluate that, and what kind of quality of people do you want?”

He added: “If you’re a vice-chancellor as I was a vice-chancellor, you have no other life.”

During his time at Birmingham, he said, the institution had gone “from being a good university which was quite traditional, quite risk-averse, to being a university which was, I think, more confident, bolder”, innovating in features such as being “still the only university to run our own 11-to-18 school”, the “first Russell Group university to take over a further education college” and moving to “being a civic university with a global footprint” before that positioning “became fashionable”.

Sir David, a former University of East Anglia vice-chancellor and Arts and Humanities Research Board chief executive, who will now chair the board of INTO University Partnerships, also said: “If you’ve had the career I’ve had, you just have to harden yourself to unreasonable criticism. That’s very sad. Because I’ve never met anybody who cares more about higher education than I do.

“I’ve met quite a lot of people who care as much about higher education as I do; I haven’t met anybody who cares more about it, and I haven’t met anybody who’s given more of their life to it.

“The lack of generosity we now have in the sector towards those who give everything for the sector – it doesn’t speak well.”



Print headline: ‘I have never met anybody who cares more about HE than I do’

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Reader's comments (15)

I work with many academics who give their whole life to their job. I think it’s unreasonable to suggest that it is only at the higher levels of management that people have this level of commitment to their work.Giving a life to a job is not sufficient justification for the inflated salaries given to senior management in universities particularly given the huge load placed on other staff, and to suggest otherwise I find utterly disrespectful of the academic and professional workforce in the sector.
Eastwood ignores the very real governance and equity issues attached to the determination of VC pay - it is inexcusable to trot out the familiar 'we are worth it and none of the rest of you are' line. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09540253.2021.2023112
A pretty tone-deaf assessment of his own position, if ever there were one. Academic work is for almost all of us a vocation, one where at the best the lines between work and non-work time are blurred. He gives no reason why that fact in itself should mean that people who manage academics should be paid vastly more than than academics themselves, let alone other servants of the public good.
I can only support the excellent comments made above by those quicker off the mark. To me, it is not always the pay of VCs but the pay rises that are the problem since most of us have suffered below inflation increases for many years.
This publication seems to have very little memory. I did an analysis back in 2013 that took into account a load of factors and compared UK VCs, Australian VCs and Presidents of the top 100 US Public Universities. THE and others cited that for years. Here is the conclusion on the pay of UK VCs -- they are generally paid fairly -- Australian VCs are massively overpaid for what they do and who they are. Looking at the UK vice chancellors we see that that if these individuals were paid based on the US model they would be paid approximately A$38,462 to A$114,219 less. However, if they were paid according to the Australian model they would be paid A$92,042 to $102,290 more. If they were paid according to the formula from the G08 institutions this number jumps to between A$238,674 to A$287,760! These estimates suggest that most UK vice chancellors seem to be paid in line with an overall market model and are dramatically underpaid in comparison to G08 vice chancellors.
Here is the link to an overview .... https://modern-cynic.org/2013/05/08/university-leaders/
Seems to be quite a partial take on what 'fair' is. And largely self-referential. In contrast, we looked at processes and equity. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07294360.2020.1841741
words fail me, so I offer him my silence, when he should have offered his silence to me.
They must law cultur good
What place does such a self-serving piece have in what is supposed to be an objective and serious publication?
Yes, the last decade at Birmingham has certainly been less risk averse. Building 'campuses' (it's a building) in other countries that will never bring back what they cost, buying city centre buildings without a clue how to use them, disasterous IT projects, huge problems in maintaining a bare minimum service in HR, branching out, for some reason, into conference centres. Not obvious what benefits any of these brought to staff, students or the region. Gave a bunch of senior managers some competency-based interview fodder for the next rung though, I am sure. There's a university just up the road running a bunch of schools too, so don't know what he's on about there either: https://www.uwmat.co.uk/
"I haven’t met anybody who cares more about it, and I haven’t met anybody who’s given more of their life to it." Seriously?
I am actually happy that he was given this opportunity to show himself as his arrogant, self-centred and ridiculous self. Couldn't help but compare his arrogance here to Andrew's BBC interview last year. Are we still allowed to use the term 'prat' in this politically correct world of ours?
“we have never fully addressed the funding challenge…the questions of who pays, what do they pay for, and how is that funded”. - and indeed what it is spent on. Agency problems in universities have turned universities into a rent seekers paradise. Just to remind ourselves that it not just the VCs, others too are giving their all, for their livelihood -their mental health, physical health, family life and more.