Louise Richardson attacks “tawdry politicians” over tuition fees

Vice-chancellor accuses media and politicians of damaging the UK higher education sector

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Louise Richardson earns £350,000 as Oxford's vice-chancellor. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Oxford’s vice-chancellor, Louise Richardson, has criticised “tawdry politicians”  for linking high levels of pay for university vice-chancellors with tuition fees.

Speaking at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit, Richardson warned that “mendacious media and tawdry politicians” risked undermining Britain’s higher education sector, and called on academics to resist the “acceptance of a post-truth world.”

She described it as “completely mendacious” of politicians “to suggest that vice-chancellors have raided the £9,000 fee to enhance their own salaries”.

“We know that the £9,000 fee was to substitute for the withdrawal of government funding,” she said.

Richardson, whose £350,000 salary was described as “grossly excessive” by the New College bursar, said her own pay was “a very high salary compared to our academics.”

She said that pay rates reflected a “global marketplace” with American university chiefs much better paid than their British and European counterparts.

Figures released in January showed Louise Richardson was the third highest-paid VC in the UK, and that on average, the VCs of Russell Group universities took home six per cent more than they did two years ago.

Labour’s Lord Adonis and the Universities minister Jo Johnson have criticised “excessive” pay levels in the higher education sector.

Adonis, a former education minister, called for an inquiry in the House of Lords after criticising the “serious controversy” of an 11% salary increase awarded to the Bath University vice-chancellor in contrast to the 1.1% public sector pay cap.

“The highly paid should set an example to the rest of the community, particularly at a time of pay restraint,” Adonis said.

Richardson said that she hoped that the “spurious” correlations between fees and executive salaries would end, “not because it’s embarrassing for me and my colleagues, but because it’s damaging” to the reputation of UK higher education.

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She added: “Why would you want to try and damage what is one of the most successful aspects of the British economy?

“The calibre of university education is something that should be celebrated on a daily basis – not just trying to drag it down by making spurious correlations between fees and salaries.”

Lord Adonis criticised Richardson’s remarks, accusing her of a “head-in-the-sand” attitude. He told Cherwell: “There is clearly a link between the hike in fees and the hike in vice chancellors’ pay and that of the army of highly paid university administrators under them.

“Instead of denying it, Prof Richardson would have done better to announce a cut in her excessive salary and a reduction in fee levels at Oxford.

“This head-in-the-sand attitude is damaging our universities and harming students who now face debts of up to £100k on graduation.”

“If you don’t like his views, you challenge them.”

Richardson also challenged universities to protect free speech on campuses, stating that students did not have a right to not be offended.

“I’ve had many conversations with students who say they don’t feel comfortable because their professor has expressed views against homosexuality,” said Prof Richardson. “They don’t feel comfortable being in class with someone with those views.

“And I say, ‘I’m sorry, but my job isn’t to make you feel comfortable. Education is not about being comfortable. I’m interested in making you uncomfortable’.

“If you don’t like his views, you challenge them, engage with them, and figure how a smart person can have views like that.

Oxford University was contacted for comment.

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