In his New Year message, John Cridland, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, issued a call for employers to consider paying their workers more, now that the economy is showing signs of being on the mend. After what has been a six-year squeeze on wages in many cases, an increase would give consumers more money to spend and provide a much-needed boost to the incipient economic recovery.
Mr Cridland’s remit extends only to private sector employers. But those that run the tertiary education sector should also be listening. Yesterday’s revelation that the vice-chancellors of the country’s most selective universities – the 24 leading research institutions that make up the Russell Group – were awarded pay rises averaging £22,000 last year cannot but raise eyebrows. That is, after all, a raise that is more than the annual salaries of many of their employees (who have been offered a mere 1 per cent increase and are on the verge of taking further strike action this year).
There are, of course, mitigating circumstances in some of the offers made to vice-chancellors. In the case of Sir Malcolm Grant, for example, the outgoing provost of University College London, a £41,077 hike includes the restoration of a 10 per cent pay cut he voluntarily donated three years ago. Similarly, the figure for Professor Craig Calhoun, the newly appointed director of the London School of Economics whose total remuneration package of £466,000 puts him at the very top of the tree, is skewed by an £88,000 relocation payment to help him to move from the US.
Mitigating circumstances or not, however, those at the receiving end of the broader salary squeeze are unlikely to be impressed. If universities want to settle the rumbling pay dispute, they will need to explore every possible route to providing their employees with a decent wage. And – while individual vice-chancellors are to be applauded for volunteering pay cuts – it is impossible not to look askance at those awarding such eye-watering rises for those at the top at a time of restraint for those lower down the pecking order.