Successful university chiefs should not be ashamed of their salaries, says vice-chancellor earning £200,000 a year

Professor George Holmes earned more than £222,120 in pay and perks last year and owns a yacht moored on Lake Windermere

Caroline Mortimer
Wednesday 02 August 2017 13:28 BST
Professor Holmes says the only way to increase staff wages is to raise tuition fees
Professor Holmes says the only way to increase staff wages is to raise tuition fees (Getty)

A yacht-owning university vice-chancellor earning more than £200,000, has hit back at claims he is “overpaid” and said he should not be judged for being “successful”.

Professor George Holmes earned £222,120 in pay and perks during 2016, as the vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton. This was up from £202,500 the year before.

But the academic, who owns a 30ft yacht moored on Lake Windermere and drives a Bentley, said he did not believe university heads should hide their wealth.

“I have had a very successful career, “ he told the Financial Times. ”I hope students use their education to get a good job and then they can have a Bentley. Do you want to be taught by someone who is successful or a failure?”.

Average pay among UK vice-chancellors – the term universities’ use for a chief executive – has reached £280,000 per year, while tuition fees for undergraduate students are now £9,000 per year and cuts to university funding continue.

University unions, student groups and Jo Johnson, the universities minister, have said they are are overpaid and should justify their “exceptional” salaries in their annual reports.

But Prof Holmes rejected the idea saying vice-chancellors were not civil servants and should not be subjected to the same pay scales.

He said: “Universities are not public-sector bodies. We are independent, competitive organisations. University leaders are doing a very good job. Name a university that has gone bankrupt.

“Those at the top end of the sector are not paid enough. Nine Australian vice-chancellors earn more than A$1m a year. Thirty university presidents in the US do. At Yale it is $1.2m while Oxford pays £300,000. These are mobile jobs. If we cut people’s pay they will simply go abroad.”

Prof Holmes, who became vice-chancellor in 2006, two years after Bolton achieved university status, insists he is worth the salary.

He had overseen £82m of investment in new buildings and assets as well as cutting unpopular courses and opening new ones.

Since the beginning of his tenure turnover over has increased from £47.3m compared with £43.8m when he arrived.

He said he is running a “complex, commercial organisation” and works “80-120 hours a week”.

While he sympathises with the 780 university staff and 600 college employees who have been forced to suffer below-inflation pay rises, he said the only way to resolve the problem is to raise tuition fees even further.

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