Peter’s year of tribulations

Apparently our university’s chancellor is Princess Anne. She is supposed to be one of the more popular royals, if you’re into that sort of thing. She is also the 1971 British Sports Personality of the Year and the former president of Save the Children. Who would have known? After all, she is our chancellor only in the same way that Philip is our city’s Duke. Peter Mathieson, the vice-chancellor, is the real man in charge.

In his photographs he looks more like a minister than an academic. He’s middle-aged, and he comes across as middle- class, although he can’t be called that these days with an annual salary of over £340,000.

He is what people on Twitter would think of as an old white man. I’m sure he must have presented an old-fashioned image when he was the vice-chancellor of Hong Kong University – very much in accordance with our imperial tradition.

Our Vice-Chancellor is actually better associated with Bristol University than our own institution. It is in Bristol that he once researched kidneys, and taught as a humble professor. Just as Jeff Bezos once used to sell books. They call kidney stuff nephrology, and I’m sure it’s an admirable pursuit.

Then like many ‘ambitious education professionals’ he travelled east. If you too are an ‘ambitious education professional’ then I suggest you do the same because it seems to be very easy to get the big jobs there. In primary school I had a singing teacher who went east and immediately became the director of a whole chain of schools in either Hong Kong or Singapore. I’m quite sure he hadn’t any experience in educational administration. He told us he had worked at Disneyland before becoming a singing teacher.

Likewise, Peter Mathieson’s experience was doubted by HKU’s staff upon his arrival. They didn’t seem to care about our imperial tradition, and they seemed to think he wasn’t familiar enough with the way things worked in Hong Kong. He was certainly swept up by the politics very quickly. Twice he condemned the student body for their anti-Chinese protests, and as a result he became very unpopular with them. I’m sure he must be feeling very glad he left before Hong Kong’s most recent protests, and I can only presume he’s having a better time in Edinburgh.

The coronavirus pandemic has not been a welcome arrival for the vice- chancellor. He had to nobly cut his salary by 20% last year as finances dried up.

Since the ordeal, he has come to appreciate that the university must produce a surplus of income. This has become an integral part of his vision, and I am glad to report on his success in pursuing it. To achieve this surplus, he has increased the proportion of incoming international students, who of course pay, unlike Scottish (and formerly EU students), and pay considerably better than English students.

Another important source of the university’s income is accommodation rent. Although hybrid education was a resounding disappointment, its promise encouraged many tenants to come to the city and pay their rent to the university. And while student accommodation has felt similar to Pyongyang recently, at least the university received some sincerely-needed money from us, and the cathartic conclusion to the whole ordeal is that our vice-chancellor is back on his normal salary.

Image: Neil Hanna