Higher Education

Tuition Well Spent

Student tuition and government grants make up the bulk of institutional funding in today’s higher education world. This money is largely devoted to the teaching of the students, or is it? In an earlier article, I wrote about how students’ are taking on massive debt to support the research infrastructure of the universities. Although this is true, there is a darker side to university spending that has been written extensively about but is showing no signs of slowing down and is continuing to increase at an ever-increasing rate – university administration. There is a .97 correlation between the student enrollment numbers and the number of administrative staff members – something that does not occur with academic staff members who are there to teach the ever larger numbers of students.

Higher education has moved from being a place of learning to a place of business. In virtually all of the developed world, the number of administrators has increased dramatically over the past 40 years. In 1970, faculty made up an average of 75% of all American university and college employees. In the US in 2009 (and remember that it has been just getting worse) the staff, student ratio was 17.34/100 with faculty making up 6.21 (35.8%) while administrative staff made up 9.67 (55.76%) with the other 1.46 being full-time research staff. We all seemed to be shocked when we found out that in university after university, state after state, and country after country, the number of administrators in the sector surpassed the number of teaching staff. This has continued to the point where some institutions are approaching 70% administrators! What are the students paying for?

And the salaries! Academics within the system have made minimal gains over inflation in their salaries over the last 50 years while top administrators salaries have skyrocketed. Many are now calling themselves CEOs (with the attendant CFOs, COOs, and CROoks) and, for many, their remuneration is even topping the million-dollar mark with some making much more. How did this happen, and why? Why has the higher education system moved from academic governance to administrative governance? Why is it that collegiate governance led by the faculty members of an institution been replaced by administrative management where the faculty work for a line-manager and administrators make most of the decisions that used to be made by academics? Why?

One of the reasons for the explosion of rules and regulations. Compliance officers in universities have become part of a real growth industry. Government regulations have exploded, but have not kept pace with internally generated university regulations. How can a university administrator leave their mark if they can’t shepherd through a new regulation or two? And, what is the use of having new regulations if there is no one around to ensure compliance?

With the explosion of rules, regulations, compliance officers, rule-making-up administrators, compliance officers and rule-making-up administrators bosses, and bosses of bosses, along with the all important checkers of checkers, we have to expect a bit of a rise in the proportion of money that children decide to borrow (remember, university is sold by marketing administrators to 16 or 17 years olds) allocated to bureaucracy. Faculty members have moved from a position of strength and governance to being employees of institutions who fear for their positions and pensions if they speak out.

Is it just me, or does something appear to be wrong with this picture? And before the international readers start saying that this is a particularly American problem, have a look at your own numbers. Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa… all of them have talked about this bloating of university administrators as being scandalous.

We all agree (except the administrators reading this) that something needs to be done to change the picture, but what? Maybe we can all put on our Pollyanna glasses and expect that the system will self-correct in the next couple of years. Or, maybe it won’t.

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