Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cost of universities

In 2013, the twenty most expensive vice-chancellors in Australia earned nearly $18 million in salaries between them. This does not take into account the army of DVCs and PVCs that support their work. At Sydney University, six DVCs together earned more than $3.1M, almost $4.1M if you also include the vice-chancellor’s salary. Across 39 Australian universities, they are an expensive group.

When we look at the purpose of higher education (teaching and research) and its problems (audit culture, high administrative costs and so on) it seems that if we were to just shave off this whole layer of the university, everything would be fine. To see why we don't just do that, we need to see what caused it - that is the chapter that I am working on now for the book which we think will be called Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university (UNSW Press).

The growth of this costly executive also reflects some wider changes in the university. The key one is the general cost of running the place. A 2012 report by Ernst & Young on Australian universities said that the overall cost of running universities now exceeds the cost of teaching and research. Ernst & Young were in fact trying to make a case that organisations like theirs, which they claimed could be lighter on their feet, should enter the higher education ‘market’. But it is nevertheless true that administration and other costs have escalated. The ‘economies of scale’ that Dawkins sought seem to have had the opposite effect. 

Not all of the decisions made in universities are irrational, however, and thinking about the rising costs since the 1980s is to simultaneously make mind-numbingly boring lists of things like IT infrastructure, student support etc etc and also to consider how whole areas of work have professionalised in the past 30 years - and professionalisation itself is something I am also interested in.

No comments: