Much has been made of the announcement that Oxford is to have its first woman as Vice Chancellor, with many hailing this as a symbol of progress. A statement from OUSU, not seen by some members of the elected executive prior to its release, welcomed the news, but has since disappeared from the OUSU website. Since then people have been reluctant to call a spade a spade, and point out that Richardson is, well, just another Vice Chancellor in the same mould as that pinstriped clown, Andrew Hamilton.
On the greatest threat facing universities at the moment, which is that of creeping marketisation, Richardson has shown herself to be at odds with both the principles and policies of our students’ union and the views of students. In 2010 she told journalists, “£9,000 a year is very little to pay for a St Andrews education,” which presumably from the perspective of a former Harvard administrator could be true.
In the same interview, Richardson called the marketisation of education “corrosive”, but if that’s the case, then why hasn’t she called for universities to be publicly funded? In Michaelmas we had a debate across the university as to whether or not OUSU would back the NUS’s call for free education to be paid for by greater taxation on business and those with higher incomes. The vast majority of JCRs that debated this voted in favour, as did OUSU Council. Louise Richardson should be told sooner rather than later that students do not agree with her that £9,000 a year is “very little” to pay and that we will not accept quietly any comments of the kind Andrew Hamilton enjoys making, calling for higher fees.
The role of Vice Chancellor, while questionable in itself in a university that ought to be run by and for students, workers and the wider community, is presumably to secure the long-term future and act in the best interests of all stakeholders.
The greatest threats facing us are the international education companies like Apollo and Pearson and the policy-makers who want to rip open higher education to the forces of the market. Overcrowded classes, a casualised postgraduate workforce, pay cuts to the cleaners and librarians while management cronies rake in six-figure salaries. These are all hallmarks of the processes unleashed into education by the Blair years and accelerated by the Coalition.
Vice-chancellors play a vital role in shaping education’s future. Richardson will work with the Russell Group and Universities UK, the VCs’ club, who tend to adopt a pro-fees stance with the government. In their goal of securing more cash for their institution, these vice-chancellors prefer that the tuition fee cap be lifted than for the government to raise taxes on millionaires like themselves.
When the next big tuition fees fight comes up, I very much doubt that Louise Richardson will be on the side of students and those who work in this university – and I don’t think her appointment is the godsend that some people are hoping for.