Time for university fat cats to sup from the “efficiency” bowl

Zain Sardar of the Young Greens looks at the scandal of fat cat university Vice Chancellors.

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By Zain Sardar, Young Green student support officer

Will Hutton published his fair pay report (pdf), commissioned by the government, in March 2011.

Greedy-fat-catLooking into the extent of wage differentials between the highest and lowest paid in the public sector, Hutton recommended there should be a maximum 20:1 ratio in the sector.

The recommendation did not intend to be a panacea to the problems of inequality that blight the sector, but a crucial step in ensuring the much vaster inequalities that characterise the private sector did not slowly creep into the public sector.

The recommendation was routinely dismissed by the government.

The report itself shows quite clearly that by and large the public sector already operates at less than 20:1. In fact, most of the sector is closer to 10:1.

However, one of the most striking things about the graph in the report that charts the average pay differential in different parts of the sector is that only one sector goes dramatically above 10:1- and that is the Higher Education (HE) Sector.

As Chart E shows, at an average 15:1, the HE sector has the highest level of inequality in the public sector.

Chart E:

The reasons for this have been particularly saliently articulated by the High Pay Commission. There can be no doubt that over last few decades the pernicious and pervasive mentality of the private sector has leaked into the public sector.

While the inequalities in the private sector, as eluded to earlier, dwarfs the public sector, the hunger for excessive pay at the top has been well and truly unleashed. Vice Chancellors and senior management on university campuses are an exemplar of this corrosive attitude to high pay.


See also:

Unless pay gaps are reduced, we’ll end up with Victorian levels of inequality 22 Nov 2011

Private sector pay must also be made transparent 15 Mar 2011

It’s time pay inequality became a priority 16 Feb 2011

We cannot address public sector pay without addressing private sector pay 15 Jan 2011

A ratio cap of 20:1 won’t make pay fairer 13 Dec 2010


Highly paid senior management positions are unaccountable (like CEOs of banks and corporations) and enjoy little threat of being made redundant unlike ordinary workers.

Secondly, cutting the pay of senior staff is seen as an admission of failure or incompetency on behalf of the institution; conversely, there tends to be an arms race with high salaries seen as a source of credibility – like universities all charging £9,000 as a hallmark of quality – despite the reality of the actual situation.

The arms race in the private sector has been replicated in the public sector under the excuse the public must compete with the private when it comes of senior managerial talent. These arms races are endemic in the private sector and demonstrate the failure of the free market when it comes to high pay, and has been, to some extent, mirrored in the public sector.

It is exactly as a rejection of the opprobrious nature of how the private sector works with regards to pay in large companies and banks that we should take issue with inequalities in the HE sector. VC pay has been increasing over the last decade – average now around £200,000 – while low paid workers still do not earn a Living Wage.

The HE sector is, and should be, a community, and it is community values that need to be expressed through how we remunerate workers throughout the sector.

The campaign for Fair Pay on Campus offers a radical solution to the inequities of the HE sector that no high pay manager should be paid more than 10 times that of the lowest paid worker. This drags the HE sector in line with the rest of the public sector as we look to an incremental lessening of inequalities.


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