Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Why recent events at London Metropolitan University demonstrate the need for greater democratisation of universities

Despite protests from arts students there, and the resignation of the CASS campus dean Robert Mull, London Metropolitan University sold the Sir John Cass building, which is London Metropolitan's main arts campus, to a property developer: https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/cass-faculty-building-sold-to-property-developer-for-50m

This decision was taken in spite of the fact that moving the arts faculty to the main campus in Holloway Road even when space there is already limited and will be further constrained by the moving of the law faculty there, is likely to result in the closure or severe downsizing of important courses there such as silversmithing and instrument making, which are important but hard to find UK-wide. Similar situations could end up being repeated across UK campuses-specialist courses, sometimes offered only by a handful of universities in the UK, are there for a good reason. Meanwhile, unelected chancellors and vice-chancellors are experiencing 14% pay rises to their already enormous salaries; most vice-chancellors earn at least £200,000 per year, and often over £300,000 per year, which is more than what the Prime Minister or any Cabinet Minister earns from their parliamentary salary and also more than 10 times the average national wage.

Now more than ever, it is important that universities open themselves up to more democratisation, in order to preserve their ability to be bases for strong and innovative academic learning and research. Currently, only the Chancellors of the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London are elected; the rest are appointed usually by management boards that do not have any real student or lecturer influence. No vice-chancellor I know of has ever been elected to their position, either by the students or the lecturers who actually bring the academic part to the university itself. This is particularly problematic when many chancellors and vice-chancellors have never actually taught or studied at their respective university.

I therefore believe that it is important that in future, all students and lecturers are able to elect their university's chancellor and vice-chancellor, that they have more representation on boards in order to reduce pay gaps at universities and make sure the university is accountable to all, and that chancellors and vice-chancellors should come from the ranks of experienced lecturers who actually appreciate fundamental academic and ethical values, and that students and staff are able to recall their chancellor and/or vice-chancellor when it is necessary to do so.

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