Bath University students are furious after the institution’s £470,000-a-year vice chancellor stepped down amid a pay row – only to be offered a “golden handshake” deal.
It was announced on Monday that Dame Professor Glynis Breakwell – the highest paid vice chancellor (VC) in the UK – would leave her role in August following criticism from staff and students over her salary and benefits package, which amounts to almost three times that of the Prime Minister.
The pay packets of university bosses has become a point of contention as student loans have crept past the £9,000 mark, with former education minister Lord Adonis taking the floor of the House of Lords in July to slam their “greed”, specifically criticising Breakwell in his scathing attack.
While more than 300 university workers have called for Breakwell’s resignation over the issue, hundreds of students were set to protest her salary in an “unprecedented” campus rally on Thursday.
A vote of no confidence in the VC was also reached by Bath’s student union earlier this week.
But while students say they are “happy to see her go”, they have slammed the university’s decision to allow Breakwell a six month sabbatical on full pay after she steps down, despite the institution’s insistence the 65-year-old will receive “no payments for loss of employment”.
The university confirmed that while Breakwell will cease to be VC at the end of the academic year in August, she will officially retire in February 2019 to give her time to “further her academic research for a semester” and allow an “orderly transition”.
The institution will also write off a £31,489 car loan for Breakwell, as agreed on her appointment in 2001.
Politics student Clementine Boucher described the situation as “unacceptable”, saying it has triggered “so much student anger”.
“Breakwell’s leaving is great in one sense, as it shows they [the university] are listening to our demands,” the 22-year-old told HuffPost UK.
“But the fact they are willing to let her go with a golden handshake shows they are trying to fool us.
“They wanted to undercut the momentum of the referendum and tomorrow’s demo,” she added.
According to the group Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, Thursday’s protest over the VC’s pay is still going ahead, despite news of Breakwell’s departure. Around 350 students are expected to attend the rally.
“We thought the announcement of the VC’s resignation was a victory for us, but it turns out that, as usual, management have fucked us over,” the group wrote on Facebook, referring to Breakwell’s “golden resignation handshake”.
Calling for the university’s governors to resign, the post continued: “Glynis has presided over massive staff pay freezes and the casualisation of their contracts, as well as over the rise in our fees and rents.
“She and her management team run this university like a business and for the interest of a small elite staff minority. It is extremely unlikely that this will change after her departure, unless management promises a structural overhaul or their operations.”
“They tried to shut down student voices by not letting the referendum and demo being carried out to show the true extent of student anger. Thursday’s demo is still on, we’ll show them who’s boss.”
Second year politics and international relations student Francesco Masala added: “The departure package is a kick in the face to the student and staff body.
“The move was supposed to put a stop to the student protest, but it actually just added fuel to the fire,” he said.
“Breakwell is the tip of the iceberg, the controller of the iceberg, and removing her doesn’t erase the whole problem.
“She will be gone, but the paramount goal is making sure that nobody else can fill her shoes in the future, and do the exact same thing.”
In a statement, Breakwell said she had served the university “to the best of my ability” during her time in office.
“Since 2001 the University has changed dramatically,” she said.
“It has almost tripled in size and is now among the top universities in the UK. It has had many great achievements in its first 51 years and it will go on to be even greater.”