Professor Sir Malcolm Grant is seen on a video, from March 2009 before tuition fees trebled, telling a reporter that he thinks a “higher potential cap or even no cap at all” for tuition fees would allow universities “to be much more competitive amongst themselves both in the quality of education they provide and the amount they are allowed to charge for it”.
In a separate video after tuition fees rose, the 67-year-old says he didn’t think rising tuition fees was the “biggest problem” facing students.
York Vision has examined newspaper reports and video interviews to establish some background to the incoming chancellor, who is also the chairman of NHS England, after bosses announced he would succeed Greg Dyke when he steps down following this year’s summer graduations.
Other revelations include his call for the number of student places at university to be cut and his description of the living wage as a “luxury” – despite York recently increasing wage levels to that of the living wage.
But his most significant comment was on tuition fees. During an interview with the BBC six years ago, he said: “I think the fees can be raised provided there is no deterrent to less well-off students coming to our universities.”
He continued: “You also have to ask whether we now want to continue to pursue the original objective of 2004 which was to have a market in fees.
“The present level of £3,000 hasn’t produced a market, recent research suggests that a level of £5,000 wouldn’t produce a market.
“If a market is to follow, then I think for a higher potential cap or even no cap at all, and allow universities therefore to be much more competitive amongst themselves both in the quality of education they provide and the amount they are allowed to charge for it.
“The logical progression behind the ideology of the 2004 legislation is that you wouldn’t have a cap and that you would have an open market.
“But I am sensible enough to know that you can’t jump to that in one leap. That may be a longer term progression.
“One shouldn’t imagine that the outcome of that would be higher fees everywhere.”
Following the introduction of the £9,000 fees, he then said in an interview with Pi TV in 2013: “I don’t think [a rise in tuition fees] is the biggest problem [facing students].”
Most of the comments made were during his tenure as provost at University College London in which he successfully defeated a motion of no confidence in himself by the students’ union.
He is due to succeed Greg Dyke as chancellor of the University of York from August 2015, and will therefore represent the institution both nationally and internationally and chair the University Court.
A number of requests to university management to interview Mr Grant have been declined.
In 2010, he came under fire for comments made to the London Evening Standard, where he described paying 180 contracted cleaners the living wage as “seductive” but also a “luxury” that UCL could not afford.
And the professor also faced a backlash after he told the Guardian newspaper that student places at “pile it high, sell it cheap” universities should be slashed to protect Britain’s leading institutions.
Last night, students at York said his comments were “ridiculous”.
Benedict Townsend, a third year law student, said: “People find it hard enough to pay these fees as it is and now they’re trying to remove the cap entirely?
“The student body doesn’t elect the chancellor – why should a figure that is not a democratic representative of the students be allowed to have such a dramatic effect on their lives?”
Peter Mills, a second year engineering student, added: “I think it’s concerning that the university’s choice for the new chancellor would hold such backward views towards student tuition fees. Whose side is he on?”
Sam Maguire, the YUSU President, branded the remarks “out of touch”. He said: “While I understand the logic behind the appointment of Malcolm Grant with his skillset and experience aligning effectively with the university strategy, his comments are definitely out of touch with real student views and are deeply concerning.
“The university consultation on his appointment with students came after the decision had effectively been made and should have been far more in-depth as the chancellor should be someone who can fuel student aspirations.”
A university spokesman told York Vision that it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for Sir Malcolm to comment, but added: “Sir Malcolm Grant is an excellent choice for Chancellor and we are honoured that he has agreed to succeed Greg Dyke.
“We consulted widely on the choice of Chancellor, including with student representatives. The final decision was made by Court, on the recommendation of Council.”
Sir Malcolm Grant was appointed chancellor of the University of York on November 28 last year.