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Is this where your tuition fees are going? Vice-Chancellor’s salaries continue to rise

The pay packages of many university vice-chancellors have massively increased recently. Duncan Hopwood investigates

Vice-Chancellors are getting pay rises of up to £72,000 this year, while ordinary lecturers have raked in a more meagre £150 on average.

With the latest Times Higher Education annual pay review announcing that the salaries of university vice-chancellors have risen to £250,000 on average, questions have been asked about how pay rises like these can be justified when so much of the public sector, including the universities themselves, is facing cutbacks. Following straight on from the trebling of tuition fees, this increase has been seen by many to be insensitive for university leaders to take big bonuses at a time when austerity challenges both students and tutors.

98 vice-chancellors around the country received a pay rise above the £150 increase that was applied universally for ordinary Higher Education workers. Vice-chancellors earn at least 15 times more than those on the lowest pay scale of higher education staff.

Vice-chancellors at Russell Group universities have been receiving ever increasing pay rises, averaging more than a £10,000 increase per vice-chancellor. Warwick’s Nigel Thrift saw his salary rise by over £42,000 to reach £316,000 in total remuneration in a year, in a year when Warwick plummeted down the world university rankings and department funding was cut. The most striking increase was for Dame Glynis Breakwell of the University of Bath, who received a pay increase of £72,000, although her pension was reduced.

As with top bankers and managing directors, performance seems to have no influence on vice-chancellors’ bonuses and benefits, with top British universities struggling to compete worldwide. Instead, vice-chancellor salary is on the rise in order to 'benchmark' with other extremely high vice-chancellor salaries, such as Birmingham’s David Eastwood and Oxford’s Andrew Hamilton, whose remuneration packages of over £400,000 are the largest in the UK. The remuneration committee for the University of Durham justified their vice-chancellor Christopher Higgins 10 per cent increase in salary by arguing it matches 'more closely with that paid by other leading universities in the UK'.

In the case of smaller and younger universities however, a greater correlation between success at reaching professional targets and increase in pay is noticeable. Nick Petford, vice-chancellor for the University of Northampton, received a 21 per cent increase as a result of the university’s success in employability rankings, whilst the University of Bedfordshire’s Les Ebdon was given a 12.9 per cent increase as part of his 'tremendous contribution' to the university, as he went into his final year at the institution.

Other heads at smaller universities, such as Anne Carlisle at University College Falmouth, saw big pay rises despite increasingly poor performances in league tables.

Whilst Sussex University students held lengthy protests this year over the university’s increasing privatisation, the Vice-Chancellor Michael Farthing received another increase on his annual pay rise, this year by £8,000 to reach a grand total of £280,000.

The pay rises may seem inappropriate, but vice-chancellors and remuneration committees insist that university leaders earn nowhere near as what other leaders in other fields, such as banking. Russell Group universities make double the revenue of some FTSE 250 companies, and receive more than half of the salary package. However, leaders of third sector non-for-profits often barely make six figures. Similar salaries exist within the public sector for other senior management positions, including heads of quangos and the NHS. Almost every vice-chancellor earns more than the Prime Minister.

Len Shackleton, professor of economics at the private University of Buckingham, told Times Higher Education that the ideal salary for a vice-chancellor, considering the gruelling nature of the job combined with the considerations of working in the public sector, should be somewhere between “the remuneration of a FTSE company director and the salary of a highly paid civil servant”, which is effectively where their pay scale is now. Shackleton blames “political spite” and “envy” for the difficulties around paying vice-chancellors “anything above the minimum”.

Duncan Hopwood is a student brand ambassador for the i, and a Warwick undergraduate. Follow him on Twitter here.