This is the spring of Glasgow’s discontent. Indeed, it would be pretty hard to miss the numerous strikes by university staff over the last few months. And while they seem to be regarded as more of a weekly nuisance around campus, the strikers do make an important point.
It’s a well-worn story: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Our Principal, Anton Muscatelli, received a 3 per cent pay rise in 2012, bringing his salary up to £257,000, increasing an already very comfortable salary. Yet academics and support staff have been offered a mere 1 per cent rise in their pay (peanuts, essentially), effectively meaning they have received a 13 per cent cut since 2008. On top of this, the percentage of the University’s budget going towards staff salaries has dropped from 58 to 55.5 per cent over the last decade. It seems like staff are being pushed down the pecking order.
However, it’s hard not to feel this is only part of a wider issue affecting the University of Glasgow. Firstly, by giving senior management a greater pay rise, this is only widening the gap between the elites of the University and the general staff, who make up the majority of those employed at Glasgow. Moreover, it shows a shocking lack of awareness on behalf of the University over the treatment of its employees, essentially telling them that they have to do the same jobs for less, while the richest get along just fine, thank you very much.
For staff, the problems are not merely financial. According to a recent survey, Glasgow ranks among the top 20 universities in the UK for staff stress and dissatisfaction. It seems like Muscatelli and co aren’t doing enough for Glasgow’s staff, and consequently we are seeing this reflected in the industrial action of the last few months.
Yet the issue here does not merely end with Glasgow’s staff. Students are also feeling the effects of the increasingly myopic, money-driven structure of the University. It seems that Glasgow University is happy to treat its students like anyone else, charging them for services that cost ludicrous amounts.
I spoke to Jane Hamilton, President of the Paediatrics Society, who told me of the difficulty she encountered when she approached the University to host a conference. She was informed that the cheapest room would cost at least £1000 for a day.
“It’s such a shame,” she says. “We want to be able to invite students from all over the UK, or even from all over the world, to see our beautiful university. It’s a real shame that student services are run like a business in this way, making things like national conferences almost impossible.
“For some student societies looking to host a conference, it can cost them in excess of £2000.”
It is saddening to hear that the University does not give its own students any allowance when it comes to using the main building’s facility, especially as Jane recalls: “I went to a conference in Aberdeen and the society had access to their whole medical building and all rooms at no extra cost. To them, £2000 sounded ridiculous.”
Glasgow University seems to be increasingly profit-driven, at the expense of its staff and even its students. Perhaps this is the way the University is looking to run itself now, giving itself a rigid business model. Maybe students will continue to become customers and the University will continue to find more ways of squeezing profit out from wherever it can.