Tories moot punishing vice-chancellors on over £150,000
by Felicity Collier
UNIVERSITIES could be fined if bosses can’t justify bumper pay packets which see them taking home more than the Prime Minister, the government announced yesterday.
Measures to curb pay hikes could be introduced by new watchdog The Office for Students (OfS) following recommendations by Universities Minister Jo Johnson.
Institutions would have to “justify” salary deals which exceed £150,000 — the current salary of Theresa May — or face penalties, including fines.
Mr Johnson is calling for “greater restraint” on pay and is expected to urge universities to publish comparisons of top pay rates to their median staff pay, alongside explanations of above average salary hikes.
He said: “I have heard in recent days one prominent vice-chancellor noting she was paid less than footballers or bankers. If university managers want those kinds of wages, they are simply in the wrong business.
“No FTSE350 business enjoys the certainty that the higher education system benefits from in knowing that it has an uncapped flow of new customers coming to it each and every year, bearing £9,000 vouchers from the government.”
His comments followed comments made by Oxford University vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson, who earns £350,000 but suggested this was not high compared to other professions.
University heads received an average pay package, including benefits, of £277,834 in 2015-16, according to analysis by the University and College Union (UCU).
Welcoming the move, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Soaring vice-chancellor pay has become a real embarrassment for our higher education sector.
“Jo Johnson is the latest in a long line of ministers to have seen previous calls for pay restraint ignored.
“Instead, vice-chancellors have hidden behind shadowy remuneration committees when it comes to their pay. Over two-thirds of vice-chancellors sit on their own remuneration committees and three-quarters of universities refuse to publish full minutes of the meetings where leadership pay is decided.”
Further measures could include new guidance on the role and independence of university pay committees which usually decide on leadership salaries.
Three-quarters of universities refused to provide full minutes of their remuneration committee meetings for 2015- 16 when asked by UCU through a Freedom of Information request.
A consultation will be held on the measures before final decisions are made.
Len Shackleton of business lobby group the Institute of Economic Affairs branded the proposals “populist posturing” and said: “If anything, at the moment UK vice-chancellors’ pay is low by international standards.”