University fees: The price is up but where's all that extra cash going?

Turnover is up, the living wage stays down and protests continue. What's going on?


Scarfed students standing on smashed police cars, horses charging into protesters corralled like sheep – when the increase in tuition fees was announced the protests hogged headlines around the world.

But, as the students paying £9,000 a year enter their second year, the issue of meteoric university costs is slipping under the radar. This week’s protests have been a less dramatic affair, with peaceful picket lines, flags being waved and much fewer buildings being occupied. But though an aging Marxist picketing a lecture theatre doesn’t quite have the same public interest of Tory HQ being trashed, the issue still requires attention.

It is, perhaps, the perfect moment to reflect on the impact tripling tuition fees should have on staff wages. Or perhaps more to the point, the lack of impact it has had. UCU, Unite and Unison – the three unions who represent the majority of University workers – organised the strike, which university staff participated in to protest the derisory offer of a 1% pay rise: in real terms representing a 13% pay cut from 2008. Protesting at the same time, but entirely separately from the union protests, were Occupy Sussex, who specifically targeted the introduction of the living wage to university administrative staff.

At a time when universities’ turnover and surplus income is predicted to shoot up, in line with tuition fees, the demands of the unions and Occupy Sussex are timely . The living wage is currently set at £7.45 outside of London, and £8.55 inside the capital. This is the lowest amount that the Joseph Rowntree foundation estimate people can earn and live at a socially acceptable level.

It's an issue that's slowly creeping into the political agenda. Ed Miliband is to reveal his policy regarding it over the coming days, but despite all that the living wage has been part of proposals and protests in student politics for several years. And up until now universities have been fairly robust in their dismissal of the idea.

The sensible argument against the living wage goes something like this. Universities cannot afford it. Therefore if they agreed on implementing it, they would have to cut the majority of their low paid staff to ensure they could pay a minority the living wage. This argument makes sense, and legitimately applies to certain cases, however at the current point in time it cannot be used as a defence. Official financial reports for the previous year have not been released yet, however early indications, like figures obtained by York Vision, suggest that the universities’ surplus and turnover have increased dramatically due to the rise in tuition fees.

York University’s turnover has increased from £257 million to £290 million. Where this extra money has been redistributed at the moment is largely unknown. Given the staff are protesting, it seems unlikely it's been reallocated towards their wages. On top of this York’s surplus has jumped up by £3 million, to £8.7 million – roughly a 60% increase – and a clear effect of inflated tuition fees. Whilst other universities financial figures are currently unknown, they are expected to follow this trend with both an increase in turnover and in surplus.

Some of the turnover will be off-set by a reduction in government subsidies, however there is no reason why a certain amount cannot be reallocated towards an increase in pay. However subsidy or no subsidy, there is still the significant rise in surplus which should be used to pay the small, yet crucial, amount to bring admin workers’ pay up to the living wage.

Now, York is a mid sized university with 15,000 students. Naturally universities with more students are matched by more staff and vice versa. As the increase in turnover and surplus is dependent on the number of students, it should always be sufficient to cover the living wage of the staff at any university, as the relationship between the number of staff and students is naturally linked. 

The reallocation of turnover is a feasible strategy, and this is without even considering altering vice chancellors’ frankly astronomical wages. Between 2011 and 2012 vice chancellors’ salaries rose by 2.70% surpassing regular employees meagre pay rise of 0.5%. And some rose by over 10% – with Warwick University’s chancellor’s salary going up by £42,000, to £316,000 annually. That rather trivial £42,000 (in a salary that large does 10% really make that much of difference?), could have covered giving numerous admin staff the living wage for a year.

Nobody wants to see students being kettled, or police vans being torched. The protest earlier this week was peaceful and made its point respectfully. But let's not ignore the issue. Now is the right time for a reconsideration of wealth redistribution within these prosperous seats of learning. As for staff struggling after years of having their paypacks frozen, let’s round to giving them what they deserve.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower