Andrew Adonis: a one-man tuition fee Twitter storm

Andrew AdonisWhat has got into Andrew Adonis? The former Tony Blair guru, now a Labour peer, has spent much of his summer having a go at higher education, and particularly vice-chancellors, attacking them on Twitter, and anywhere else he can, for their “greed”, for running a “fee cartel” and for leaving students with a “Frankenstein’s monster debt”. He’s asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate why fees are so high and the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) to look into governance at the University of Bath, where the vice-chancellor earns more than £450,000 a year. In any spare moment he tweets the number of university staff at individual universities on annual salaries of more than £100,000, or the six-figure earnings of managers of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, recently revealed to have run up a deficit of £17.5bn.

Asked why the sudden campaign, Lord Adonis, tripping over one of the many papers on his office floor, spills reasons almost faster than even he can articulate.

“I’ve gone in pretty strong because it’s got to be clear that the current system isn’t sustainable,” he says. “And one of two things will happen – either the vice-chancellors will lead reform themselves, or it will be done to them.” Failure to act, he suggests, will bring “massive austerity, and they will have nobody to blame but themselves”.

On one day in July he did a string of 27 tweets listing high university salaries. He joked: “There’s a universities lobbying group called MILLION PLUS which all the vice-chancellors are joining because it’s their new salary target!”

It was when fees went up to £9,250 linked to RPI with 6.1% interest that he felt impelled to speak up. “I just thought this has got totally out of hand.” He argues there is “a massive, massive category difference” between fees of £3,000 a year repaid with no real rate of interest – the scheme he helped devise in 2004 – and the current system. Particularly worrying, he says, is that the high interest rate means those who earn enough to pay all their fees back, but not enough to pay them off early – such as teachers and doctors – will end up paying far more than those on huge salaries, such as bankers, able to dispense with the debt in a few years.

Internationally, the trend is for fees to go because they have become electorally impossible, he says. Fees have been abolished in Germany – “I’ve always taken the view that if Germany is doing something you should take really serious notice” – and in New York state.

He has philosophical reasons too. The idea of the fee system he helped introduce was that it was supposed to recognise the fact that both the state and the individual benefited from higher education so both should contribute. “What happened in 2010, which I think was one of the aspects of excessive austerity, was that we moved overnight to a system where the state withdrew and the individual was expected to make the entire contribution. That became, in my view, fundamentally unfair.”

But what has really set him going over the past few weeks is looking into what universities have been doing with the fee money. “I think it is a genuine scandal what has happened not just to vice-chancellors’ pay but to top pay, and that would not have happened but for the fees bonanza,” he says.

It could also be significant that Adonis’s two children are about to start university – one next term, the other is in the process of applying. He doesn’t want to go into this beyond the fact that he’s been attending a lot of open days, which, he says, “have helped me see things – positive and negative”.

Responses to his campaign have ranged from the supportive to the furious. But it already seems to be having some effect. While the CMA declined to intervene in setting fees, the universities minister, Jo Johnson, has told vice-chancellors they must justifyhigh salaries by exceptional performance.

And Hefce, the universities’ funding council, has announced it will be investigating governance at the University of Bath in light of Adonis’s concerns. Adonis, a former journalist for the Financial Times and then the Observer, is thrilled at this, which he sees as a big story: “It’s the first time I’m aware of that Hefce has investigated the governance of a university in respect of salaries.” Actually, he seems thrilled with his campaign altogether – “the Sun did an entire two pages on it …” – and vows to continue speaking (and tweeting) truth to power.

It’s not that he’s short of other things to do. As well as his role in the Lords, he spends three days a week as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, for which he earns – “complete transparency” – £85,000, the pro rata rate (£142,000) of a permanent secretary, the same as his preferred salary for a vice-chancellor.

Nor does he believe higher education the most pressing problem facing the UK. This clearly is Brexit: he is due to deliver a book on how to stop Brexit next month. He was asked to do one on the future of higher education but is not sure that he will have the time. But he does seem to be relishing his chance to upset the education establishment.

Adonis, who was a councillor for the SDP and then the Liberal Democrats before joining Labour, was promoted to the peerage by Blair in 2005 and became an education minister after heading the No 10 policy unit. He describes Blair as “an extraordinarily natural politician” – they are still in regular contact. By contrast, he has not spoken to Jeremy Corbyn for 10 years. But he supports the Labourleader in speaking up for students, admires the way he has cut through with the public and can certainly see no prospect of another political party being launched in the UK. “The SDP was a failure. And the lesson I take from the failure was that you need to work from within the existing party system if you want to change the country, not engage in political fantasies of new parties.”

Infrastructure and education are his two big interests, he says, because both can transform society, and on education, he has strong personal reasons for this claim. Abandoned aged three by his mother, he spent much of his early life in a children’s home because his father, a waiter then postman, struggled to work and bring up Adonis and his sister. Thanks to Auntie Gladys, the inspirational head of the home in Camden, north London, he secured a state scholarship to a boarding school, Kingham Hill in Oxfordshire.

He was only the second pupil from there since the war to make it to Oxbridge. “It was a massive culture shock,” he says. “But I loved it. And it’s been the making of me.” He was in Oxford for “the 10 best years of my life”, first as a student at Keble College, then as a postgraduate at Nuffield, and taught for three years at Jesus. If there is one job he covets it is that of chancellor of Oxford, following in the footsteps of his hero, Roy Jenkins. For him, Oxford remains the best university in the world but “I think we have lots of very good universities. I think universities are one of the great civilising forces of life.”

He is clear about what he would like to see happen from next year. He wants top institutions to take the lead and unilaterally cut fee levels. He also wants any vice-chancellor paid more than £200,000 to cut their own pay – those paid over £300,000 should halve it. This, he claims, would not only help cut fees but give managers a better relationship with their university staff, whose basic pay rise last year was 1.1%.

He wants his own party to lead the debate and Johnson to promote cross-party agreement on a lower fees regime and reintroducing the state teaching grant. The 6.1% interest rate on student loans, he predicts, will go, and this will inevitably mean restoring the cap on student numbers, lifted two years ago by the then chancellor, George Osborne. Fears that this could reduce the number of disadvantaged students making it to university, he says, could be eased if higher level apprenticeships take off. He also believes universities should open all year to offer intensive two-year degrees.

Isn’t this an idea long supported by the Conservative government? Yes, he agrees, but, just as with government calls for restraint on vice-chancellors’ pay, nothing’s happened.

“When I was a minister I only went on about things I was going to make happen,” he says. “I very rarely talked about things I wasn’t.”

  • This article was amended on 8 August to correct the year when the decision was taken to raise tuition fees to up to £9,000 and to clarify that academics were given a basic pay rise of 1.1% last year, not a pay cap at that rate.


World No Tobacco Day Has Twitter Buzzing With ‘No Smoking’ Messages

World No Tobacco Day Has Twitter Buzzing With 'No Smoking' Messages

Tobacco use kills over seven million people each year, according to WHO.
May 31 is World No Tobacco Day and several celebrities, politicians, sportstars and may others on social media are posting their messages on #WorldNoTobaccoDay to mark the day. It’s no secret that smoking and using tobacco is extremely injurious, not only to one’s health but also to others and the environment. “Tobacco threatens us all,” says World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr Margaret Chan. “Tobacco exacerbates poverty, reduces economic productivity, contributes to poor household food choices, and pollutes indoor air.” Tobacco use kills over seven million people each year, according to WHO.

So, to drive home the message that tobacco is harmful and should not be consumed in any way, people on Twitter are posting messages on World No Tobacco Day. “I left smoking almost 35 years ago! Will you?” tweeted Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan earlier today. Many others, not unlike like Big B, are sharing their personal anecdotes of when they quit smoking and how they feel now. Tweeple are also sharing facts and figures related to tobacco usage. Some have even posted suggestions on how one can quit the habit.

Former Indian opener and current Twitter king Virender Sehwag, Railways Minister Suresh Prabhu, singer Shaan, and many others have also tweeted about #WorldNoTobaccoDay. The hashtag is trending on Twitter.

Here’s what Twitter is saying on World No Tobacco Day
If you’re looking to finally kick the butt, today is the best day to do so. Say no to tobacco on World No Tobacco Day.

Share your thoughts on World No Tobacco Day in the comments section below.

Click for more trending news


Why Twitter Needs to Constantly Change to Create a Positive User Experience (Watch)

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With all the 140-character sentiments being shared online these days, there are bound to be a few that cross over the line and become hateful or otherwise inappropriate. But now, Twitter is trying to do something about it. The social platform just announced plans to slow down abusive accounts and hide abusive tweets from public view.

This isn’t the first time Twitter has had to make adjustments to curb harassment or hate speech on the site. Last year, Twitter rolled out changes that allow users to block certain keywords and conversations from their feeds and report hateful conduct from other users.

But while this latest update is likely a step in the right direction, it probably won’t be the last change Twitter will have to make. Anytime a business like Twitter allows for user-created content, it gives those users the ability to have a big impact on the user experience for others.

So Twitter shouldn’t just let all of that content go unchecked. When certain users get abusive, hateful or otherwise inappropriate, it ruins the experience for everyone else using the site. So even if it’s not something that Twitter itself is doing, it can still lead to a poor experience or even to some users closing their accounts altogether.

The End Goal is Always a Positive User Experience

And since public opinions can vary so widely, that means Twitter will likely have to update its policies and processes constantly so that users have more control over what they see and don’t see. It might seem like a lot of work, but it’s all in the name of creating a positive user experience.

Twitter Photo via Shutterstock

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A $1 Billion Twitter IPO, a $1,000 Curved Samsung Phone and More

There’s so much to follow and so little time. Thanks to the Web, you can keep yourself more informed on the latest developments than entrepreneurs at any other time. But, of course, running your business takes time too. That’s why the Small Business Trends editorial team works so hard to bring you the news you may have missed this week. Enjoy!

A $1 Billion IPO and a $1,000 Curved Samsung Phone

Twitter seeks $1 billion. The microblogging platform already crucial to many entrepreneurs and thought leaders now wants to go public. And the amount of money they are planning to raise may seem high for a company that still isn’t profitable.

Samsung releases first curved smartphone. It may cost $1,000, but no one can deny Samsung’s new Galaxy Round is unique. The curved Samsung phone is an innovation others will follow. And it is a marketing master stroke demonstrating the importance of being different.

More Mobile News

No iPad 2 for the holidays? Looks like that may be the case. But expect announcements coming from a big Apple event scheduled for Oct. 22 to clarify things. Would an iPad Mini be your choice for a business tablet?

Amazon smartphones could be coming. At least, that’s the case if you believe all the buzz. Certainly, the company has built its own tablets. The question is whether these phones will be largely consumer products, just a curiosity or a good tool for your business.

Windows could soon run on your Android HTC phone. Microsoft is apparently trying to convince the phone manufacturer to add Windows Phone as a second option on some of its Android devices including the HTC One.

Microsoft plans Office for iPad. Of course, iPad users already have access to Office Web Apps. (See the video we’ve shared for more details.) And Office 365 subscribers can use an Office Mobile app for iPhone. But the new Office for iPad would be something different.

News From The Web

Docstoc updates with a new look and more. Some might describe the look and feel of the new Docstoc as “Pinteresty.” But Small Business Trends founder and CEO Anita Campbell explains that’s not the only change to this small business resource site.

This new policy may save Etsy. The craft site has been at the center of a controversy lately. So-called resellers allegedly use loopholes in the company’s rules to market mass produced items, an Etsy no-no.

Adobe discovers hack. When you’re the victim of a cyber attack, it’s not just your own business that can become a victim. A recently discovered cyber attack at Adobe may have exposed the personal data of nearly 3 million customers.

Ecommerce Innovations

Let visitors log into your website with Amazon. The ecommerce giant has introduced a new program called Amazon Log In and Pay. And there are advantages for small business users who already sell merchandise from their websites. We’ve got more info.

PayPal acquires online payment developer Braintree. There’s big competition in the online payment field. It’s an important issue to small businesses in need of a way for customers to make payments. And PayPal is trying to remain in the forefront.

Public Policy

Boehner faces hard decisions on business. What is a Speaker of the House to do? Speaker John Boehner faces an agonizing decision on the Affordable Care Act impasse. And for a champion of small business, there may not be a good one, says commentator Scott Shane.

Upcoming Events

And the winners are! Meet the top 100 champions in this year’s Small Business Influencers Awards. The gala event in New York City is coming up Oct. 17. Check the above link for more details.

Reading Photo via Shutterstock