Can anyone tell me why Lord Mandelson (the former Business Secretary) chose John Browne (Baron Browne of Madingley) to chair the review of higher education in the UK that is due to report on 12th October? Given his background, and the wider political agenda of which the review is a part, the report’s conclusions can never really have been in question:
- Browne spent almost his entire career at BP, beginning as an apprentice in 1966 and rising to Group Chief Executive of the combined BP Amoco group in 2007
- He was one of the most highly paid executives in the UK, with a reported £5.7 million salary in 2004
- According to some, he was the person most responsible for cost cutting at BP that many attribute to having led to the Texas City refinery explosion in 2005 and most recently the Deepwater Horizon Explosion in 2010.
In short, he is a businessman, who was paid a salary that most people can only dream of, and built his ‘success’ on cuts. Although he is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (amongst others), he has shown that he has little real understanding of the purpose of universities, the issues and challenges facing academic and students, and the crucial role that high quality research and teaching must play in Britain’s future.
Surely even he is intelligent enough to understand that increasing fees twofold or threefold will mean that many students will no longer be able to afford to go to university, or will choose instead to go to universities elsewhere in countries that still believe in the provision of free, high quality university education. A free market in higher education cannot serve the interests of students, of the country, or of university excellence.
Just because Browne was able to earn such a large salary having gained a Physics degree from Cambridge and a Business Master’s degree from Stanford, does not mean that every graduate will be able to do likewise. Only a few are able to earn the grossly inflated salaries that now seem to be so prevalent amongst senior executives in major corporations and the bankers who brought our financial systems to the point of crisis that has been so damaging to our economy.
A more intelligent and sympathetic Chair might just have led to a more creative and viable future for our once great universities.
Links to my reflections on:
- university fees – the time for protest is now!
- university funding
- Mandelson’s destruction of UK higher education
- the value of UK universities
Together, we might just be able to salvage a small number of high quality universities from the impending bonfire of the vanities.