Hundreds of outraged Bath University students have marched through campus to protest the six-figure “golden goodbye” handed to the UK’s highest paid vice chancellor after she agreed to stand down amid a major row over pay.
Waving banners and letting off coloured flares, crowds called for Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell - whose £470,000-a-year salary and benefits package amounts to three times that of the Prime Minister - to be ousted from her post immediately.
“We are tired of everything being about Glynis and being about senior management, when it should be about us - the students,” 19-year-old rally organiser Jessica Louise told the energised group of demonstrators.
“We see right through their bullshit to the truth - that Glynis will leave here taking over half a million pounds of our money and that isn’t right.”
“We need change now, not in 2019 when she leaves. Lets take back control and make change happen right now.”
The demonstration comes after it was announced that 65-year-old Breakwell, who lives rent-free in a five-bedroom flat in Bath’s famous Lansdown Crescent as part of her position, would be retiring in February 2019 - but not before enjoying a six month sabbatical on full pay after stepping down from her role in August.
The university sparked further fury when it revealed that it would be writing off a £31,489 car loan for Breakwell, as agreed on her appointment in 2001, despite claiming she would receive “no payments for loss of employment”.
Critics such as former education minister Lord Adonis have claimed her exit package amounts to “about £700,000” when considering the rest of this year’s salary and Breakwell’s paid sabbatical.
There has been a nationwide debate about the salaries of university bosses in recent months, with many vice chancellors earning hundreds of thousands of pounds a year while tuition fees creep past the £9,000 mark.
Marching through Bath University’s campus today, frustrated students blasted Rihanna’s anthem ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’.
Meanwhile, others threw cookies in a nod to the professor’s now infamous expenses claim for a £2 packet of biscuits, despite her impressive salary.
“Two, four, six, eight, how many biscuits will it take?” crowds chanted as they gathered at the centre of the university.
During the demonstration, it was announced that in a student union referendum held this week, 87% of students had backed a vote of no confidence in the vice chancellor.
But protestors insisted that the issue was about much more than Breakwell’s pay packet, demanding that the university’s governors also resign.
“This has never been solely about Breakwell,” 22-year-old psychology student Jess Bain said.
“She’s just a symbol of what’s wrong at our uni, which has become about business and profit, not students.”
Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, a group at the centre of the student campaign against Breakwell and today’s protest, are calling for a complete new board of governors for the university, with more input from students and non-management staff when it comes to choosing leaders.
A 10:1 pay ratio for the university’s highest and lowest members of staff must also be implemented, the organisation has demanded.
“At no point should the vice chancellor be earning more than the Prime Minister,” third year undergraduate Chloe Smidt-Nielson added, saying the current situation has created an “atmosphere of distrust” on campus.
The feeling is one echoed by many members of staff at Bath University, dozens of whom attended today’s march.
Earlier this year, more than 300 university workers called for Breakwell’s resignation, claiming pay inequality and casualisation has affected large swathes of employees.
President of the Bath University and College Union Michael Carley said members have been left “disgusted and shocked” at the terms of her departure.
“It’s just the final insult from a university that’s one of the biggest users of zero hours and casualised contracts, where student rents have gone up 6%, where we have had pressure on accomodation for students for many years, where we live - as somebody has said - in a climate of fear under the current management,” he said.
But in an interview yesterday, Breakwell insisted she was “not embarrassed” by her six-figure salary, insisting that the university’s reputation had not been damaged by the controversy.
She told BBC Radio 4′s PM programme: “I think that we have a situation where we are in a globally competitive market for talent in higher education - that is particularly true in terms of the leaders of higher education.”
Announcing her departure from the university in a statement on Tuesday, Breakwell said she had served the university “to the best of my ability” during her time in office.