Thoughts on university reform

This caught my eye this morning:

Universities would lose control over the salaries of vice-chancellors under a plan floated by Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm.

“Australian public universities are crying poor while the averag­e salary package for their vice-chancellors is now almost $900,000,” Senator Leyonhjelm told the HES yesterday.

“Last year 11 of them earned more than $1 million.”

His party plans to introduce amendments to the government’s $2.8 billion higher education savings bill that would give the ­Remuneration Tribunal control over vice-chancellors’ salaries to ensure they are “financially ­viable” for the institution.

Already controversial, the high salaries of university chiefs have been seized on by Education Minister Simon Birmingham in his political struggle with the sector.

I have two theories:

  1. The Australian confused David Leyonhjelm of the LDP with British Overseas Citizen “Senator” Nick Xenophon.
  2.  David Leyonhjelm has been infected by a very, very bad case of statism.

Central wage setting is an IR system that Australia abandoned some decades ago and while I understand nostalgia – being of a certain age myself – one should restrict nostalgia to 80s music and some movies.

To be blunt the Remuneration Tribunal cannot possibly be the solution to over-paid VCs because it already overpays politicians, public servants, and judges. Why will it be any different for universities?

Now the problem is this – Australian universities have a governance problem. That problem manifests itself in many ways – one symptom being over-paid VCs. It manifests itself in other ways too – far, far too many people on staff who do not, will not, and cannot actually teach or research. To be clear – some support staff are necessary and universities run on a core of people who ensure the day to day operations of the organisation run smoothly.

Universities should be run in the interests of students and not in the interests of senior management or in the interests of the federal education minister.

That means two changes need to be made:

  1. The academic boards of universities must be made up of individuals who out number senior management on the board and of individuals whose careers and promotion are not beholden to senior management. In short – full professors of the university.
  2. University Councils must be elected by alumni and financial donors. Now there is a good argument for ex officio appointments and the like, but a majority of council members should be elected by the ultimate customers of the organisation – the students.

Having the government set wages is not LDP policy and should not become LDP policy. If the government wants to reform Universities it should start by linking HECS payments to good university governance and, of course, the abolition of the abomination that is compulsory student unionism.

This entry was posted in Education. Bookmark the permalink.

50 Responses to Thoughts on university reform

  1. struth

    You are basically public servants in universities and the government has every right to set salaries.

    Go out unfunded by taxpayers and pay yourselves what you like.
    The government then has no right to interfere.

    I’m sure you would advocate the same for the ABC, but strangely not for your own Trough snouters.

  2. Zatara

    “Australian public universities are crying poor while the averag­e salary package for their vice-chancellors is now almost $900,000,”

    You have GOT to be shitting me. The President of the United States makes $400,000.

    Someone explain to me how a chancellor, much less a vice-chancellor, rates more than the President of the United States?

    The base pay for the most senior ADF officer is $390,024. Same question.

  3. stackja

    Universities it should start by linking HECS payments to good university governance and, of course, the abolition of the abomination that it compulsory student unionism.

    Gough again.

  4. Neil

    Someone explain to me how a chancellor, much less a vice-chancellor, rates more than the President of the United States?

    More than our PM as well. Nobody in the PS or our quasi PS entities eg Post Office should earn more than the Prime Minister

  5. A Lurker

    The state of play of freedom in Oxford University.

    Perhaps the good Senator should write a column about the erosion of freedom of speech in Universities in the West, and how the freedom to be a practicing Christian or a Conservative with non-politically correct public views has been long under attack in our august institutions of higher learning.

    But I forget, the good Senator has a habit of going AWOL when there are important votes on freedom of speech happening in Parliament.

  6. Mother Lode

    David Leyonhjelm has been infected by a very, very bad case of statism.

    Remember how Tim Wilson was turned once the HRC got their paws on him.

  7. C.L.

    struth makes an interesting philosophical point.
    Why don’t some academics band together and set up their own schools?
    Davison College.
    Anyway, thank heavens we have Sinclair as a voice for righteousness (and Meatloaf) in the state-run, communist sector. As for non-core staff, I always felt sorry for the large number of wannabe academics in university halls – marking papers and overseeing half-baked ‘tutorials’ in the hope that one day they would get a junior lectureship.

  8. struth

    More than our PM as well. Nobody in the PS or our quasi PS entities eg Post Office should earn more than the Prime Minister

    In our day and age, you’ve just given the PM a wage rise, not cut the wages of the others!!

  9. A Lurker

    The state of play in Australian Universities

    “A survey of the titles and descriptions of all 746 subjects, reveals that there are significantly higher occurrences of ‘Indigenous’ ‘Race’, ‘Gender’, ‘Environment’. ‘Identity’, and ‘Sexuality’ than there are ‘Enlightenment’ or the ‘Reformation.’ There are more occurrences of ‘Islam’ than ‘Christianity.’

    “The findings have also revealed that the most commonly offered subjects by 35 universities are Ancient Greece and Rome at one end of the historical spectrum and the Twentieth Century at the other. This effectively means that the events which took place in the intervening two and a half millennia of the history of Western Civilisation are ignored” said the IPA’s Dr Bella d’Abrera.”

    British and European history goes MIA yet VC pay rates is exciting our political class.
    As much as VCs are being paid too much, perhaps the focus should be on what is being taught.

  10. zyconoclast

    The former principal of Kambala Anglican girls school Sydney, suing for defamation.
    The school has 1000 k-12 students, income $26 M. Fees range $19k – $34K.

    She used to earn $650 k/y

    Does that sound about right?

  11. stackja

    A Lurker
    #2526652, posted on October 18, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Decline and Disgrace at Sydney University
    KEVIN DONNELLY
    The university’s ‘Unlearn’ advertising campaign leaves no doubt it is Leftist indoctrination, not learning, which the institution has made its stock in trade. As a video promotion promises, students will ‘question the world, challenge the established, demolish social norms and build new ones’

  12. Bruce of Newcastle

    Perhaps David could introduce a private members’ bill that no employee of a government in Australia can be paid more than the Prime Minister.

    Surely that is reasonable. After all if the job of Prime Minister is the most important government position in the land should not the PM earn the highest salary?

    I note that the President of the USA receives a salary of $400,000 pa, which would be about $513,000 in Australian currency. Therefore it would be reasonable that the Australian PM earn somewhat less than the President seeing our country is somewhat smaller.

    There. Problem fixed.

  13. DM OF WA

    This:

    You are basically public servants in universities and the government has every right to set salaries.

    The state-funded higher education sector in Australia operates in a semi-secret parallel world where the normal laws of nature and society do not seem to apply. Because the higher ed sector here is so opaque most citizens have little knowledge of how their taxes are spent there; unlike say health and defence. Taxpayers would be outraged if they had any idea of the level waste, inefficiency and nepotism! This situation really needs to change; the time is long overdue for massive privatization and student-centred funding.

  14. The Chief Economist of the CBA has today called for a rethink about wage policy. Market failure, he says. What is going on? CBA, Westpac, Qantas and PwC have been taken over by escapees from the asylum.

  15. Snoopy

    but a majority of council members should be elected by the ultimate customers of the organisation – the students.

    So just like an SRC, then?

  16. Snoopy

    The Chief Economist of the CBA has today called for a rethink about wage policy. Market failure, he says. What is going on?

    Sniffing the wind. Hoping to be eaten last.

  17. A Lurker

    stackja, yes, thanks for that – I had read about that a few days ago but it slipped my mind.

    So many pressing problems with higher education today, yet the political focus seems to be only on wages.

  18. Zatara

    yet the political focus seems to be only on wages.

    Wages are an excellent place to start the winnowing.

  19. Shine a Light

    If some university type could focus on the recovery side of extreme weather events, maybe someone could come up with the idea of drones being used to carry much need supplies to precise spots.
    For example, the bickering in the US over who fault it is for supplies failing to get though recedes as a political dogfight.

  20. Squirrel

    Sympathetic as I am to questions about why VCs should be paid somewhat more than the PM, and other humble functionaries such as the President of the US, I would much prefer to see a laser-like focus on winding back the Gillard Government’s handiwork in turning undergraduate higher education into yet another entitlement program – which, like all other such programs – becomes a honeypot for spongers and rorters.

    Savings from such an effort would make a modest contribution to managing the half trillion dollar federal government debt, and some savings might be re-directed towards developing locally the skills which currently justify a large scale “skilled” immigration program – in time, we might have fewer highly qualified baristas and shop assistants, but more people with the trade and technical skills we actually need.

  21. deluded

    What do you expect? If the state funds it, then of course it is not in the interest of a state-funded institution to promulgate anything but that which promotes its continued existence, its power and support of its apparatchiks.

    There are obviously many areas where genuine education is still obtained. Finance can be generally neutral to influence, as can engineering and the the various sciences, but economics and the arts have been infiltrated.

    What I see at uni is a sausage machine – a heart-beat and credit card enter at one end and a degreed, state-compliant sausage pops out at the other end! (What bugs me, however, is that students are primed for this from their early years in state-funded schools.)

    For example, not one economics student can divine the stupidity of low to close-to-zero interest rates and bond yields (or the implications). Negative bond yields in Europe reveal institutionalised statism. In moral terms it is theft. Bufoons. I bet those clowns at the ECB ensure they get privliged salary packages like the VCs at unis here. And for what?

  22. Art Vandelay

    This situation really needs to change; the time is long overdue for massive privatization and student-centred funding.

    Spot on. It’s about time all taxpayer funding for the university sector was abolished. Then they can pay each other as much as they like.

  23. Zatara

    Pardon the repetition, but wages are an excellent place to start the winnowing.

    Make being progressive cost. Deal with the debris after.

  24. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    The real issue is to ensure good active appointments to senior positions in the Chancellery as a whole, and to minimize the number of these positions, especially non-line functionaries who should report up from outside the tent. While appointing outsiders from industry and commerce to some of these positions can be useful, especially for external Chancellors to bring another perspective (proviso: largely avoiding tired old judges), selecting most senior management staff from the professoriate level does ensure the Chancellery has people who know how universities run and operate – for instance, who should have kaiboshed ‘unlearning’ at Sydney U given the unhappy anti-intellectual political connotations of it and the confusion it could cause to international students. So it doesn’t always work to have insiders.

    That said, for goodness sakes don’t hand the institution over at Council level to the largely SJW student activists and mostly disinterested alumni to play student politics in and produce disrepute. It’s bad enough when grown-up politics happen there, as is usual. Use parliamentary overview to appoint a limited number of sensible Council members from business and industry who can see where the fat is and what future prospects are for the institution, while knowing not to go overboard on traditions that matter, and who are capable of taking advice on those. Don’t appoint union hacks or SJW’s. Sideline non-essential representatives. Keep a limited student voice.

    Universities need to change and they need to have people prepared to make changes; not all of which will be popular. Hairy’s just home. I read him your piece, Sinc. He’s been in Chancelleries, done that. His wry smile was a treat to behold. He was once a full professor in a STEM area in a sandstone and much involved in senior management as Dean, PVC and DVC. He now gets head-hunted by industry for his managerial track record across both sectors. He’s pedaling down; had enough of both really.

    I’d also limit the numbers at Academic Board, as well as having some senior management representation, or from what I’ve seen of the general professoriate you will be herding cats to no purpose except each to their individual own. The idea of a co-operative professoriate elicted another wry smile. Endless democracy can be a bitch.

    As for financial rewards, apply some decent kpi’s and make sure you get your money’s worth. Whilst a professoriate may hate this as ‘management speak’, perspective depends on where you sit. I found this as a mere HOD. Put your hand up for it, Sinc, it’s an education in itself, although often very hard work. My seriously brilliant first husband went into a late career as a university administrator, pushed unwillingly into it, as his metier was scholarship, but he ended up loving it. Broadly tie rewards to similar senior levels in the public sector unless you make a special case to go outside that; a case only some institutions can ever make. Most universities cannot afford to pay the salaries used in industry, where the CEO’s achievements are more tangible and profit accrues more.

    Cancel the ABC and put the money into university education in STEM areas.
    And apprenticeships. University should not be a trade school. 🙂

  25. EvilElvis

    I can’t set wage rates in my own private business so taxpayer funded positions can fucking suck it like the rest of us, Sinc.

    I’m angry when I’m tired…

  26. Tel

    David Leyonhjelm has been infected by a very, very bad case of statism.

    Given the tragic state of Australian government debt, at this stage any method Leyonhjelm can discover to reduce spending is perfectly fine by me. Best option of all would make the universities entirely self funding and they can run like any other business… but sometimes second best options are also worthy of consideration.

    To be blunt the Remuneration Tribunal cannot possibly be the solution to over-paid VCs because it already overpays politicians, public servants, and judges. Why will it be any different for universities?

    OK, there is a chance this suggestion would not reduce government spending, but at the very least it attracts attention to it, and that’s not entirely a bad thing, when you also consider that nothing the LDP recommends is ever going to become law.

  27. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    Does that sound about right?

    Yep. Adjusted for inflation and also just because.
    It is entirely up to Kambala what they care to pay, and to whom.
    They work in a very competitive market system called parental ambition.

  28. zyconoclast

    They work in a very competitive market system called parental ambition.

    Thanks.

  29. Tim Neilson

    Tie some percentage of university funding to how much HECS revenue their graduates have repaid in, say, the period from 5 years ago to 20 years ago.
    No doubt some adjustments could be made for low paid but useful jobs (e.g. nursing or teaching perhaps). Also there might be some allowance made for small student cohorts in genuine areas of real learning like the classics.
    But the general effect would be to focus the attention of the unis towards employability and earning potential of their graduates, and away from Angry Studies pseudo-disciplines.

  30. Sydney Boy

    Universities should be run in the interests of students and not in the interests of senior management or in the interests of the federal education minister.

    For universities to be run in the interests of students would require an earth-moving change. Universities are currently run in the interests of the staff. Many academic staff have little to no interest in their students, and only teach the bare minimum hours in order to work on the research and generate income and grants for the university. You realise this when job applications require you to list your previous grants rather than student satisfaction surveys.

    Oh, and the VC is the person who runs the university, the Chancellor is a figurehead position, and rarely earns anything close to the VC.

  31. Former Prof

    Actually there is another solution. People who teach should be paid according to merit, based on objective measures of performance (like the success of students in the real world). People who research should be subject to a bidding process based on merit in which the funds are dispersed by a central agency of reputable peers: peer assessment in advance! No success, no pay!
    Only graduates of the institution should vote on matters such as academic board.
    Only the people paying the bills (government) should assess exec salaries and they should publish their criteria.

  32. Neil

    In our day and age, you’ve just given the PM a wage rise, not cut the wages of the others!!

    It is a bit ridiculous. When the PM is being interviewed by someone on the ABC it is possible he is talking to someone earning more than he does some of the time. Certainly he is earning much less than the head of the Post Office

    Nobody in the Public Service and quasi PS entities should earn more than the PM

  33. Tel

    Tie some percentage of university funding to how much HECS revenue their graduates have repaid in, say, the period from 5 years ago to 20 years ago.

    Yes.

    Make it a big percentage.

  34. Defender of the faith

    Special pleading from Sinclair. We need a small number of research unis. And everyone else should be on teacher deals. The ridiculous pay is more to do with a flood of innocent foreign students sold on quality teaching, which is not a discipline in our system.

  35. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    the Chancellor is a figurehead position

    Not quite. They have certain review responsibilities. And some of them interfere in management issues in ways far beyond their remit.

  36. True Aussie

    So long as universities are suckling on the public teat then the state can set whatever salaries they like for the parasites who work there.

    Why do you so called free market champions support non free market institutions like universities and why the hell would you work at one instead of getting into the free market you claim to support?

  37. I don’t think making comparisons with the salary rate of the POTUS us useful, that job is notoriously underpaid for the responsibilities involved. Singapore is a better comparison for governments of private enterprise or free-ish capitalist States.

    For Marxists organisations such as the ABC or the average university, the comparative rate of pay should be equal to the the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Say around $22500 pa.

    The progressives professors want to create Marxists mini states with the salary levels of Imperial Singapore.

  38. max

    Academic intellectuals, tend to favor socialism and interventionism.

    why?

    academics receive many direct benefits from the welfare state.

    intellectuals who can not find food in the free market, look for state to provide for them.

    only reform that is going to do any good is to privatize all university
    let them swim or sink

  39. DM OF WA

    The state of the Australian higher education sector is an example of “institutional capture”: it is controlled by a small group for the benefit of that group – to the detriment of students and taxpayers.
    Yet these pampered academics and administrators whinge constantly about how they are undervalued and underpaid and badly treated.

    And I cringe each time I hear someone at my university unironically describe themselves as a “thought leader”.

  40. Neil

    So long as universities are suckling on the public teat then the state can set whatever salaries they like for the parasites who work there.

    The parasites get 17% Superannuation. Way above most people except for Public Servants who get 15%. Paid for by the taxpayer.

  41. Sinclair Davidson

    I found this as a mere HOD. Put your hand up for it, Sinc, it’s an education in itself, although often very hard work.

    I’ve been HoD in a previous life and Associate Dean.

  42. mareeS

    We put ours through apprenticeships and TAFE diplomas. They work independently in their fields, on fantastic contract salaries around the world.

    University is dumbing down young Australian kids, whose teachers and parents are telling them a piece of paper and a large loan are their key to the future.

  43. Arky

    Universities should be stripped of public funds and run for shareholders.

  44. Arky

    Oh, and I extend the same principle to my own field.
    State schools should be privatized too.
    I came to this conclusion last year. My students would recieve a better education from schools where the profit motive forced the delivery of a better, low cost product.
    Particularly true of low socio- economic areas.
    I am sick of seeing government mandated crap forced down student’s throats.

  45. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Beare

    I’ve been HoD in a previous life and Associate Dean.

    Ah. I shoulda known. 🙂

  46. Universities should be run in the interests of students

    I don’t think the interests of students exhausts the purposes of universities, whose principle purpose is transmitting and renewing our intellectual and moral inheritance for posterity. This cannot be limited to simply current students, or even future students, but to all people, past, present, future, that have an interest in the inheritance itself. In this sense, the University, including the Council is a trustee and ought to act in the interests of that inheritance, including maintaining standards of excellence even if students and employers think they are too strict.

    but a majority of council members should be elected by the ultimate customers of the organisation – the students.

    Not at all, no one group should enjoy a majority of the Council, particularly not students, who probably understand less about anything, including the purposes of a university, then anyone else.

  47. gbees

    Rather than try to regulate Chancellor salaries I’d rather Universities were put on notice that unless they abandoned left wing ideology and dumped trigger warnings, removed safes spaces, stopped banning free speech, protected and promote visitors and speakers with conservative views, encouraged the establishment of centres like that proposed by Bjorn Lomborg, strated teaching the history of Western Civilisation and dumped radical gender theory nonsense their funding would be removed.

  48. Pauly

    I have two theories:

    The Australian confused David Leyonhjelm of the LDP with British Overseas Citizen “Senator” Nick Xenophon.
    David Leyonhjelm has been infected by a very, very bad case of statism.
    Central wage setting is an IR system that Australia abandoned some decades ago and while I understand nostalgia – being of a certain age myself – one should restrict nostalgia to 80s music and some movies.

    I have to disagree.
    The problem is that VC salaries are a perfect example of Milton Friedman’s third way of soending money (Spending other people’s money on yourself)

    Since the real solution, privatising state universities, is off the table something has to be done to curb VCs being generous to themselves with student’s and taxpayer’s money. Lyenjohm’s proposal, while flawed, does a good job of bringing attention to the snouts in tne trough.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *