The class war at the top of British universities

There is a rift emerging not just within British universities, but between them.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has released a report detailing the incredible expansion of executive pay in the last decade.

High pay at the elite universities has spiralled out of control; a total of £382 million is being spent on the highest paid members of staff in just 19 universities, roughly double what it was a decade ago.

These universities are spending nearly 2% more of their total income on high paid jobs than they were a decade ago, while cutting back on student support and now nearly £4 in every £100 is going on paying those earning over £100,000.

This rapid expansion in the money being paid to the top staff in elite universities is twinned with cuts hitting the universities which are most accessible to students from low socio-economic backgrounds.

At the same time the elite universities, which have the highest proportion of rich students attending them, are receiving increases in their grants. A total of £940 million taken out of the non-elite universities is arguably being squandered on high pay for those at the top of elite universities.

This is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the class war between UK universities. There is a set piece battle over privatisation that will define the sector.

A battle is being fought over the entry of for-profit providers, the entry of which will hit the poorest hard to the benefit of the rich.

Private for-profit universities in America are taking short cuts and offering “subprime” degrees with little real value.

There is a battle going on to ensure this doesn’t happen. The organisation UK Universities, which democratically represents all UK universities, is recommending that the role of the Quality Assurance Agency is tightened and strengthened, to ensure all for profit providers are regulated by any public partner.

However, not all universities are playing the team game to protect the public education system.

Russell Group Universities like the University of Birmingham are pushing for the QAA to not require any real public scrutiny on the quality of private providers.

These private providers are after all not a threat to the elite UK universities, like Birmingham, which have massive budgets and well-established reputations. Instead the elite universities stand to gain by a useful income provided by offering accreditation services.

Overpaid executives of some elite British universities, along with the government, are lining up to replace the decent public universities that serve well the poorest students with private for-profit universities that will exploit them.

• Edd Bauer is VP Education at the University of Birmingham Guild of Students, and an activist with the NCAFC, and People and Planet. To read the report, see here.