Leeds University vice-chancellor resigns following no confidence votes

Unison strikes at University of Leeds – photo Iain Dalton

Simone Buitendijk has resigned as vice-chancellor of the University of Leeds, following motions of ‘no confidence’ from all three unions on campus, Unison, Unite, and University and College Union (UCU).

Since taking the role in 2020, she has overseen the largest concerted strike action at the university in memory. As part of the national strike wave, all three unions have fought for more humane pay and work conditions to compensate for 30-40% wage cuts over the past 13 years and the effect of the cost-of-living crisis that racks the country.

Simone was unpopular amongst all parts of the university, with students, support staff, researchers, lecturers, management, and senior management expressing significant frustration with her unwillingness to compromise on her draconian approach to managing the university.

Having been unwilling even to meet with union representatives, she was finally engaged by students during an occupation of her office in 2022. In an interview which was recorded and placed online, she openly stated her lack of any understanding as to why the strikes or occupation were happening.

During the UCU’s marking and assessment boycott, Buitendijk implemented a punitive 100% pay deduction for any lecturer taking part; a strategy denounced by unions, students, and the general public alike. UCU members went on all-out strike action against this deduction. Even some of her own deputies and senior management appointees expressed their frustration about her unwillingness to move from this position.

All this was while she was being paid £350,000 a year, with her house and travel all paid for by the university.

As the higher education sector becomes increasingly marketised, figures such as Simone are increasingly in positions of power. While we should celebrate her dethroning under pressure from the collective actions of our unions and student body, we must recognise that this is not all about one individual: she is a symptom of the rot at the heart of our education system.

We must eliminate student fees, kick profiteering out of our schools, colleges, and universities, and fight for free, fully funded education being a right, not a privilege.

A UCU member & Leeds Socialist Party member

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