The more things change, the more they stay the same. That’s certainly the case when it comes to the changing of the guard at the top of our universities.
RMIT University vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner is leaving. Her belligerence toward the staff union and penchant for property development are qualities that staff at Monash University can look forward to. Gardner will assume the top job there in September.
The incoming RMIT vice-chancellor is Martin Bean.
Not quite the clumsy but lovable buffoon of British television, this Mr Bean is the outgoing head of Open University (OU), a distance education institution and the largest university in the UK. When Bean was appointed OU vice-chancellor in 2009, much was made about his background.
Bean rose through the ranks to become a general manager at Microsoft. In an era of privatisation and corporatisation of British higher education, Bean’s lack of experience in universities proved easily surmountable. His corporate savoir-faire was far more useful.
In a Sunday Times interview, Bean boasted an artillery of skills including “how to help the university decide what our fees would be, how to market us more effectively – where to play and how to win”.
What OU actually got under Bean’s watch was job losses: 100 staff redundancies in Europe and a plan to close UK regional offices, which could result in a further 700 sackings.
With Bean at the helm OU fees more than trebled, from £1,540 to £5,000. This fee increase has a particular sting. OU was established in 1969 to provide educational opportunities for those who might otherwise have missed out – predominantly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; those with neither the funds nor the entrance scores to study at Oxford or Cambridge.
But cutbacks and fee hikes haven’t stopped Bean from reaping the rewards. In a time of austerity and massive government underfunding of higher education, Bean will leave OU as the third-highest paid vice-chancellor in the UK. Since taking over in 2009, Bean has awarded himself pay rises of 24 per cent (to £407,000),
Staff weren’t so lucky. According to the University and College Union, academic staff pay rises were capped at 3.3 percent for the last six years. That resulted in an estimated 13 percent real pay cut.
The Abbott government’s plans for further neoliberalisation of higher education in Australia have eerie parallels with the attacks in the UK. With vice-chancellors across the country welcoming the government’s plans to deregulate the sector, we can be sure that the new RMIT VC will fit right in.
This is one Bean we cannot count on.