Vice Chancellor Q&A: The Soton Tab live blog
As University Vice Chancellor Snowden takes part in an exclusive Q&A with students, the Soton Tab delivers the scoop live.
We're sitting in Avenue Café with Vice Chancellor Snowden. Snowden has of late been making headlines nationwide, facing criticism alongside other prominent university staff for high rates of pay in the face of cuts to staff and the education system as a whole. His current salary is a staggering £423,000. The Vice Chancellor has also been called out for being evasive about his role in a panel that decides his own salary increase.
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Staff have placed tea and coffee on a central café table. i am regretting having just bought one.
The café is filling up. A student just left a flyer on the table that reads in a delightfully sarcastic tone : 'Hi, my name is Professor Christopher Snowden, I am your Vice-Chancellor. Your tuition fees pay my salary."' The flyer goes on to explain that the Vice-Chancellor earns triple the Prime Minister's salary, criticises the lack of student input and advertises a cause called Southampton Students Against University Cuts – available on Facebook if you're interested.
Nobody has touched the tea or coffee. No sign of Snowden yet.
A couple of students at my table talk to me about why they're here today. One voices frustration in the difficulty of fundraising for the university and the staff cuts in the face of the Vice Chancellor's substantial pay rise.
The Vice Chancellor has arrived. He introduces himself with a fair amount of confidence, and declares a hope to "set some things straight".
A third-year kicks us off asking where university tuition fees are going. A few members of staff comment on this offering a breakdown. Nothing particularly new here.
Brexit has been brought up.
The Vice Chancellor regrets that we will receive less funding and have fewer international students, but speaks positively about the future of the university within research.
A student asks "is it a myth that you were present at the meeting deciding your pay rise?"
A senior staff member speaks on behalf of Chancellor, clarifying that the Vice Chancellor has "at no point been in the room during the discussion of his salary."
The Vice Chancellor claims that his pay rise since his beginning with Southampton has increased by 1.1 per cent. There is a sharp intake of breath in the room, as it has been erroneously widely reported that his pay increased last year by £72,000.
A PhD English student speaks out about lack of funding, and staff cuts that particularly affect Arts subjects. The Vice Chancellor explains the challenge of funding education. A senior staff member follows on from this, reasoning that the 2.3% surplus per year of the university's (approximate) 590 million turnover needs to be allocated so as to to generate future growth.
The pair continue by dismissing many of the so-called cuts as "natural" movements of staff, and "non-core" posts deprioritised to support other areas. The Vice Chancellor regards Southampton's situation, compared to, for example, the University of Manchester, as a difficult situation that has been well handled.
A student raises her hand to sympathise with the staff, and expresses an expectation that the quality of education at UoS will suffer in response to the cuts.
The Vice Chancellor points to a lack of funding, particularly with government cuts to education which have continued year after year.
The Vice Chancellor dismisses the 27 per cent figure that has been thrown around in relation to staff cuts, calling it "one of those wonderful mythologies".
Back to the salary. A student suggests that the Vice Chancellor could have taken a pay decrease in the face of cuts, to demonstrate positive leadership. There is a round of applause.
In response, the Vice Chancellor justifies his pay and pay increase by saying he could have taken a job in Australia for "three times" the salary, but instead thought he could be useful at Southampton, and this demonstrates his positive leadership. He says "Yes, I am well paid, but I make every effort to justify that by the things I do." He points to progress made in his last university.
There is a burst of laughter after the Vice Chancellor claims that his pay rise was equal to or less than that of every staff member. He adds that the average Vice Chancellor pay increase is at about 2.6 per cent, which Snowden has "never taken". It could be noted here that the average Vice Chancellor salary in the UK currently stands at £257,904 compared to Snowden's £423,000.
The senior staff member clarifies that universities do not set their own pay bands.
The Vice Chancellor says that the increase reported was "a lie", and was actually around £4,100. He further says that this year he has not taken a pay rise, and that reports saying he has are inaccurate.
Snowden proudly declares that it was his idea to hold a student Q&A, and also for anyone interested his salary is reported annually in the financial accounts and that this has always been a point of transparency.
The Vice Chancellor: "The UCU is claming that I sat on the panel when my pay was discussed. It's a lie". A BBC article is pointed to, which has been corrected by the university.
A student asks how 75 staff cuts can have no impact on students, and asks if this means that staff being cut have "no positive impact" on the university.
Somewhat avoiding the question, the Vice Chancellor clarifies that the cuts will affect "up to 75 staff". He argues that redundancy and resignation can be a positive option for staff.
Another student voices support for the staff, earning a round of applause when she tells the Vice Chancellor "I didn't come here for you"!
Another round of applause after the student asks what Snowden does that justifies him earning tens of thousands more than the Archbishop of Canterbury. Quote of the day: "What do you do with £400,000?"
Nobody is quite sure how, but the senior member of staff has reached the conclusion that the university is "making the world a better place." The Vice Chancellor and him both loudly state that they are from working class backgrounds, practically arguing about who had it worse growing up. Turns out the Vice Chancellor used to "sleep on other people's floors". You heard it here first, people.
It's likely that the session is wrapping up. Snowden delivers a speech, declaring that "nobody is actually being made redundant" (no, we're not sure what this means either), talking about how he argued against the last student fees increase.
A student asks for a response on comments made by Lord Adonis, former Minister for Education, that Vice Chancellor Snowden should "half his salary". The Chancellor criticises the Lord for having been born with a "silver spoon in his mouth", and says that his position is "quite hypocritical".
Changing the subject, a student complains about the lack of information given to students, and particularly criticises an FOI requested recently that has not been responded to. He is pointed to documents available on the university website, and also encouraged to use Sussed. The senior staff member "cannot comment" on the specific FOI which is among hundreds, divided by a team of three who specifically deal with FOIs.
A student asks about why the address from the Union Senate meeting held yesterday is only available to staff. The staff members discuss this and promise to work on this.
A student says that the Vice Chancellor is "dramatically out of touch" given that his salary is hundreds of times that that many students receive for their maintenance grant. She earns a round of applause.
Snowden explains that his lack of control over his salary means that he "actually has to contact the committee" in order to turn down a pay increase.
Phew, Q&A is clearly still in full swing! Students continue to crticise a poor information flow from the university.
Someone mentions UoS "falling down the league tables", which Snowden puts down to poor results in the National Student Survey, and further intimates that in "his area of expertise" he expects to turn this around.
Snowden points to the new free hot water offered by the union as an example of the progress made under him.
Business plans of the university are discussed, which will be finalised in January. "Next year's looking quite tight", apparently.
Daily operations on Avenue Campus are criticised. Snowden explains that Humanities is not self-sufficient in its income, and that faculties are imbalanced. He says "it's not about regarding education as a business, it's about getting enough money to do the things we need to do".
As the conversation turns to differences between Humanities and STEM subjects, the senior staff member celebrates competition between different disciplines. "We want your housemate to question you on the quality of your degree, and we want you to correct their English when they do so!" Who needs spellcheck when you live with an English student, eh.
The accompanying staff members have begun to shuffle. One is on her phone. We're going a bit round in circles with this 'soft subjects' debate.
Two more questions, people. First one is from the Academic President of Modern Languages. She raises the issue of understaffing and overworked staff within Modern Languages, and knock-on effects associated with this. The Vice Chancellor asks her to send him an email.
Last question is back to the staff cuts: when will we know more? December 14th, and January 9th are key dates here, but it's all a bit up in the air currently. It will be "weeks rather than months" before decisions have been made.
The main speakers wrap it up, with the Vice Chancellor explaining that he values feedback, and will reply to emails. One student quietly argues that he hasn't received a response to an email he sent, and the subject is changed. In case you're interested, the email is ShapingOurUniversity@soton.ac.uk.
And we're done! Thanks for staying with us, and be sure to leave a comment.