• Thu. May 30th, 2024

‘Stupid’, ‘corrupt’, ‘it’s tone deaf’ – students react to Mathieson’s knighthood

BySarah Challen Flynn

Feb 1, 2023
A three-story Georgian terraced houseA building on Regent Terrace, the wealthy Edinburgh street housing Mathieson’s university-funded townhouse with a £17,000/year upkeep - ‘21 Regent’ by daves_archive1 is licenced under CC BY 2.0

Peter Mathieson, Vice-Chancellor and principal of the University of Edinburgh, has received a knighthood for his ‘services to higher education’.

This week, The Student asked students for their responses, and heard criticisms of the principal involving his handling of strike action, his compensation for his role, and the ongoing student housing crisis.

One student said of the knighthood, “It’s tone deaf”. 

Multiple students interviewed mentioned the ongoing strikes by university staff, which have remained unresolved throughout Mathieson’s time at the University of Edinburgh.

The University and College Union (UCU) recently announced 18 days of strike action at the university and at other UK universities during February and March over pensions, pay and working conditions.

Two fourth year students of Politics and Sustainable Development discussed the knighthood in relation to the strikes.

One said, “It’s frustrating. On ground level students and staff are very dissatisfied.”

The second student said, “I think the strikes are ridiculous and I’m pissed off and he hasn’t done anything.

“I am sick of him thinking we’ll blame tutors and not know that it’s him that’s the problem.”

Another student, in her first year studying at the university, said of the knighthood, “It seems like bad timing considering the strikes”.

“It seems like there’s poor pay with the teachers [and] issues with the uni management”.

“There’s the 18 days of strikes coming up. And are any of the demands going to be met?”

A staff member at the university commented that they think the knighthood “might be a wee bit premature”.

During his time as Vice Chancellor at the University of Edinburgh, Mathieson has been subject to criticism from students over the cost of his university-funded accommodation. 

The property on Regent Terrace was a gift to the University from a donor and is valued at £1.7 million.

Mathieson does not pay for the property, and the university covers the running costs, which total £17,000 per year. 

This led to significant criticism by students struggling to find housing in September 2022.

Several students were left to sleep in Pollock Halls common rooms after being unable to secure private accommodation. 

We spoke with two second year History and Politics students:

“I think it’s rubbish; he just sort of takes funds from the uni. Wasn’t there something about his cats being transported for £20,000?”

In 2018, the University of Edinburgh covered the £26,000 bill for transporting Mathieson’s belongings from his previous residence in Hong Kong. This included the transport of his pet cat and dog. 

Mathieson’s tenure as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong, his last position before taking the Vice-Chancellor’s chair at the University of Edinburgh, was itself also controversial.

In 2017, Mathieson signed a joint statement condemning advocacy for Hong Kong independence as ‘abuses’ on free speech.  

The History and Politics students continued discussing their opinion on the knighthood. One said, “It’s astonishing the unis’ incapacity to realise that it’s ridiculous and tone deaf”. 

They commented, “It’s a smart institution, but [this is] ludicrous” and “I’m sure he’s quite bright, and totally aware of what this is doing”.

The pair described the knighthood as “stupid” and “corrupt”.

One concluded, “Corruption is just an inherent part of the universe”.

The Student asked its Instagram audience to comment on the knighthood, in the form of a story question.

One student responded, “It’s a joke. He hasn’t done anything for the uni and doesn’t give a shit about the students”.

Another said, “He’s overseeing a housing and cost of living crisis and many students living in abject poverty”.

One responder simply said “terrible”, with another commenting that it is “fitting, but absurd”.

The New Years Honours list states that the University of Edinburgh has reached its highest ranking in the QS World University Rankings under the direction of Mathieson.

The University is currently ranked at number 15 on the league table.

The Student spoke to two fourth year students, who commented on the university’s ranking.

“Ranking is just about prestige, not support for students. There is a disconnect in terms of what people think Edinburgh is like and the actual student experience”.

When asked to summarise her opinion on the knighthood, a first year student said, “No is my answer, I don’t agree with it… Does anyone?”

A building on Regent Terrace, the wealthy Edinburgh street housing Mathieson’s university-funded townhouse with a £17,000/year upkeep – ‘21 Regent’ by daves_archive1 is licenced under CC BY 2.0