Every Surrey student knows the most common issues we face: lack of accommodation, soaring housing prices, huge courses that lead to many students having little relationship with their lecturers. This is if they are even allowed to go to their lectures on campus as opposed to the town’s Odeon, something that was revealed to be occurring the same month that Max Lu was given his performance based bonus, October 2017. Further, I bow down to any Surrey student able to consistently find a seat in the library during exam times, even after the massive additions made to the library at the start of this year. All of these problems circle back round to one common theme: we have too many students because the University is too focused on making money.
In 2017, TimesHigherEducation.com posted the salaries of every Vice Chancellor in the UK to shocking effect. Bath Spa were revealed to pay Christina Slade £808,000 that academic year in base salary, and Vice Chancellors of very low ranking universities, such as Hull and Worcester, were being paid eye-watering salaries. This resulted in a national average base salary of £268,103 for university Vice Chancellors. Max Lu, the very top of an organisation plummeting in the rankings, both generally and in student satisfaction, was paid £310,000 in base salary in 2016/17 – the first academic year following his appointment. When you place this in the context of his peers, this figure becomes more and more horrifying. Of the 18 universities who ranked above us in the Complete University Guide, Max Lu was paid more than 9 of their universities’ Vice Chancellors. These included the likes of Bristol, Manchester, Durham, St. Andrews, and the 3rd ranked university in the country: The London School of Economics.
I do not claim to know the inner workings of every aspect of a Vice Chancellor’s pay, or the more intricate details of their job description. What I do know, however, is that there is a problem when we, as Surrey students, are having our degree devalued due to the greed of Surrey’s management and the man in charge of it. He is being paid far more than his equivalents, who are providing their students with better degrees and better experiences. By rewarding academic mediocrity in favour of financial excellence, Surrey Management has made clear that they don’t care about Surrey students getting a good degree – all they care about is making a quick buck.
The core of this issue for me is that, like many others, when I joined the University of Surrey – it was not my only option. I had similar offers from universities at similar levels in the rankings, and easily could have joined these universities as opposed to Surrey. When I say that the slowly declining standard of teaching and slip in the rankings is devaluing our degrees, this is not a false equivalence or over-exaggeration. For those of us who have joined in the last few years, Surrey’s drop in the rankings is simply a reminder of the other universities we could be going to right now. Our degrees are being put at risk because we joined the university assuming we’d receive a standard of degree that simply is not being met. Our degrees are not going to be from a top 10 university that is rapidly rising in stature like we were promised upon arriving here; instead, it will be from a university that is struggling to hold its position within the top 20, and will inevitably continue to plummet in stature. Whilst this happens, the University is happily making a handy profit, and Max Lu is being paid more than his peers in universities rewarding their students with more valuable degrees and better teaching.
When you boil it down, it’s simple. As students, we have to realise that the University is clearly showing us they only care about making money, and this is a problem developing from the top down. If something doesn’t change soon, our degree will be a shadow of what it was once worth.
University management was contacted for a response and had the following comment:
Michael Queen, chair of the University Council, said “The University of Surrey is a world class institution, and to stay at that level we need world class academic and institutional leadership. Professor Max Lu was selected after a rigorous recruitment process that looked at University leaders from around the world. He is one of only 150 double highly cited academics in the world, we are very fortunate that he is the VC at Surrey and he is already making a big impact on our University and building our reputation.
“Surrey is rising in the International league tables, which are based on academic achievement and quality of research, while UK league tables are more susceptible to fluctuations year on year. We would always seek continual improvement in any league tables, but our main focus will always remain on making the student experience outstanding.
“It is important to recognise that the University of Surrey is not a business – it is a charity with the objectives of teaching, generation of knowledge through research and contributing to the wider community in which we live, and any surpluses we make as a University are reinvested in the University.
“The Council and Leadership are committed to Surrey being an outstanding institution that all our students, staff and alumni feel proud to be associated with. We acknowledge that we don’t always get everything right first time and I am very happy for feedback on where we can do things better. The Students’ Union representatives do an excellent job and are very challenging on behalf of students, but we also value the comments from individual students directly.”
The Stag greatly appreciates the University responding to our article, and providing a comment on the issue. We recognise however a difference in perspective on this issue between ourselves and the University. We encourage our readers to do their own research regarding the issue, and come to their own conclusion.