The “quality control” business model has in the past thirty years been increasingly accepted by succeeding UK governments as the template for public service funding: there is a plimsoll line in any hierarchical institution, above which management strive to increase the monetary yield, or to decrease the monetary requirements, generated by those working below the plimsoll line itself. The key word taken as the heart of the system itself is “efficiency”, and this is, at core, understood to be measurable as a unit of monetary cost. Those above the plimsoll line are incentivised and awarded increasingly large amounts of remuneration as percentage of any money additionally generated or “saved”; whilst the burden of such generation, or “saving”, is borne by those below. These last bear that burden in more work being done by less people, and the public pays it in the closure of any service that the managers deem neither to be generating enough money, or saving enough in relation to its previous performance.
If a director of an institution “saves” or “generates” 5 million pounds in any one annum, why should he or she not be rewarded with an “appropriately” high salary or bonus of many perhaps hundreds of thousands of pounds? Why indeed. That the purity of such economics might not suffer contamination, it is customary also that the management overlay should have as little as possible direct experience of the tasks undertaken by those doing the generating or saving below the plimsoll line; such co-experience might generate empathy, which could be economically corrosive and blur the focus of the business model itself. Thinking and group-identification above the plimsoll line is lateral; directives are hierarchical, from top to bottom across the line itself.
As a previous generation would have put it in common speech, “They know the cost of everything and the value of nothing.” Governments have reached the position now where they can remove the greater part of government funding from universities, and not a word of protest will be made by the University principals or management. They are above the plimsoll. It is nothing to do with them, it does not affect their model of operation, therefore their own salaries. They can confine the argument to who pays the resultant supposedly necessarily increased student fees, and let the students fight that out with a passing politician. That the people in government, past and present, are of a generation who, like myself received a further education that they did not have personally to pay for, has not stopped them, to use another common phrase “kicking away the ladder”. It is disgusting.
I admire the spirit of students fighting these cuts by such as the occupation of Hetherington House, their optimism in confronting a direct attack on their opportunities for education, and for the continuing education of those outwith the university, such as those who use and have used the Department of Continuing Education. These students refuse to let go of the word “value”, and refuse to be cowed by the word “cost”—especially when such focus on “cost” is pursued by those within that business model template for whom such focus is a means to their own increasingly sizeable remuneration.
Professor of Creative Writing 2001-2009
University of Glasgow