In November 2017, Dame Glynis Breakwell, the Vice-Chancellor of Bath University, stepped down after a campaign by campus workers and students made her vast pay packet (£468,000 per annum) into a national scandal. Sol Gamsu of Bath University UCU describes this victory in the fight against inequality and management arrogance in education.
There had been warning signs. When Breakwell became VC she was bought one of the grand Bath properties to live in.
At an Academic Court meeting in February 2017, a motion was brought expressing concern about her pay and how it was set; because at the time she was sitting on — and had the power to appoint people to — the remuneration committee which set salaries. The motion won narrowly: but she turned that meeting into a farce.
A local journalist from the Bath Chronicle picked this up and the Chronicle ran with it as a big story, did a lot of FOI requests and so on. In 2016 an FOI request revealed that she’d claimed £2 for a packet of biscuits in expenses.
Another member of the remuneration committee was an executive with the company Vinci, which had been awarded a £60 million contract to do works for the University.
In Autumn of 2017 about 400 staff turned up to a meeting called by all the campus unions — academics, services staff, technicians and porters. We voted to call on the VC and the Chair of the University Council to immediately resign.
The following week, the Student Union was to hold a referendum of confidence in the VC and management. On that same day there was also a demonstration of students and staff. It was a very biscuit-heavy demo. People were chanting things like, “you can eat your chocolate biscuits on the dole”.
As the demo was going on, there was a University Council meeting in progress. Apparently the meeting was tense. Some demonstrators threw biscuits at the window of the meeting room. The Head of Marketing took a call from security and reported to the room: “I can confirm that what is hitting the room is not stones… But biscuits”. At that meeting the VC agreed to resign.
Following this episode, the University has brought in an independent consultant to undertake a “governance review”. The campus unions are organising a governance review of our own.
In Higher Education, a cabal of senior managers have used the changes in the sector to enrich themselves. Bath is only one example of that: it is a problem for everyone in the sector.