Should there be a future inquiry into vice-chancellors’ pay (see above) it is not likely to come from HEFCE in its current form. The new Office for Students, the regulatory body which will subsume the responsibilities of HEFCE and the Office for Fair Access from April 2018, will be in the driving seat. Sir Michael Barber, who is to be the inaugural chair of the body, has publicly pledged to ‘deal with’ vice-chancellorial salaries that are out of kilter with the performance of their respective universities, as well as how they stack up with the pay of other staff. But readers who are bouncing with glee at the hardline approach from what appears to be a straight talking fixer ought not to get too excited.

For those who don’t know him, Sir Michael Barber is famous for being the inaugural head of the Prime Minister’s ‘Delivery Unit’ during the second term of Tony Blair’s government. One of Blair’s most notorious legacies was the amping up to 11 of the market, metric, and money-driven means of running public services that exist to this day, and Sir Michael Barber was one of its key architects. After working for Blair, he joined global management consultants McKinsey and became chief architect of ‘Deliverology’, a pseudoscience with manipulated / gamed targets and managerialism at its core. Readers who think we’re being harsh on Sir Michael are invited to read his own account, from 2011, here:

Therefore, it isn’t difficult to predict that what is actually meant by ‘out of kilter’ can be many different things to many different people. In the same statement in which Sir Michael laid out his Tough Stance, he declared that ‘the best form of regulation is self-regulation’, adding that he didn’t intend to ‘interfere directly with university autonomy.’

Well, we’re sure he’s got everybody quaking in their boots. Although the idea of our VC having to justify his remuneration to someone whose past antics inspired The Thick of It (Sir Michael is said to be the main inspiration for Julius Nicholson, ‘Blue Skies’ adviser to the Prime Minister) does have a certain appeal.

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