FErret is all for boosting the status of FE, and the esteem in which it is held. And what better way to boost this than increasing the number of well-paid executives flashing their yachts and expensive cars in the sector?
So it is with delight that FErret welcomes the new hotshot in town: step forward George Holmes, vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton. Last week, the university merged with Bolton College in what was the first university-college merger in six years.
The track record of such partnerships isn’t exactly auspicious: of the 13 since 1994, four have been terminated. But Professor Holmes last week told Tes that the unique structure of the new link-up, in which the college will retain its name, board and principal, will mean it is “business as usual”.
FErret, for one, would be hugely disappointed if that were the case. There are boring old college principals all over the place, who overwhelmingly display a significant lack of bling.
This is not an accusation that could be levelled at Professor Holmes.
In an era of increasing pressure on universities to exhibit pay restraint for their leaders, it emerged that Professor Holmes was paid £290,215 in 2016-7 – a rise of nearly 30 per cent on the previous year. While the college states that this was below average for a V-C, it would have put Professor Holmes narrowly behind the best-paid college leader in the same year, former North Hertfordshire College CEO Matt Hamnett.
The Bolton boss is certainly not shy of displaying his wealth. Indeed, several web stories about his salary include the epithets of Bentley-driving or yacht-owning. If there were two things that the FE sector has a shortage of, yachts and Bentleys must surely be at the top of the list.
Rather than being awkward about his relatively lavish lifestyle, Professor Holmes positively revels in it. As he told the FT back in August 2017: “I have had a very successful career. I hope students use their education to get a good job and then they can have a Bentley. Do you want to be taught by someone who is successful or a failure?” Indeed, he went on to argue that university leaders were “not paid enough”: “Nine Australian vice-chancellors earn more than A$1m a year. Thirty university presidents in the US do. At Yale it is $1.2m while Oxford pays £300,000. These are mobile jobs. If we cut people’s pay. they will simply go abroad.”
Pretty powerful stuff. FErret can only assume that this approach to pay will extend to the staff at Bolton College, now that it has joined Professor Holmes’ glorious empire? Given the ongoing pay struggles for college staff, here’s hoping that the shining beacon of HE in FE will point other colleges towards a glittering, prosperous future.