Time for universities to reveal secret details of vice-chancellor pay increases

Vice-chancellors’ eye-watering rises are cloaked in secrecy.

Vice-chancellors’ eye-watering rises are cloaked in secrecy, writes Sally Hunt

Vice-chancellors have been receiving inflation-busting pay rises in recent years, while staff pay has plummeted in real terms and student fees have rocketed to £9,000 a year. They have defended those rises by saying their pay is set by independent remuneration committees.

We asked universities to send us the minutes of the remuneration committees setting out why vice-chancellors have deserved their pay rises while staff have had to put up with what Will Hutton recently described as one of the worst suppressions of pay since the Second World War.

We discovered that, when given the opportunity to be more accountable, universities refused. Four-fifths either refused to send us the minutes of their remuneration committee or didn’t even respond to our requests.

Some of the excuses we were given for the withholding of this important information have been shared from our Twitter account along with some images of the heavily redacted minutes we did receive.

Of the 27 universities that did send minutes back, over half were redacted. Furthermore only two mentioned their vice-chancellor’s pay rise and a reason behind it, and even they were limited to a few words exposing the arbitrary nature of the rises.

The University of Glasgow said its principal had provided ‘excellent leadership’ and awarded him a 2 per cent pay rise. Over at the University of Stirling, the committee was less effusive and endorsed a report of ‘strong performance by the university under the principal’s leadership’. However, he was awarded a 5 per cent rise.

Vice-chancellors’ salaries and benefits rose by an average of 5.5 per cent between 2011-12 and 2012-13. A fifth of universities thought it appropriate to reward their vice-chancellor or principal an annual increase of at least 10 per cent and around of third enjoyed a rise of between 5-10 per cent. With pension payments, the average vice-chancellor’s pay was £254,692.

University staff have seen their pay fall by 13 per cent in real-terms since 2009 and have been out on strike six times (three full-day strikes and three two-hour stoppages) since October in their fight for fair pay. Pay talks between the unions and the vice-chancellors’ representatives take place on Tuesday (15 April). UCU’s marking boycott is due to start on Monday 28 April if the dispute has not been resolved.

Without wishing to damage the egos of university bosses, we don’t think any student has ever chosen their university because of its vice-chancellor. Much more likely it is the university’s record for academic excellence, teaching quality or ground-breaking research – all things delivered by an underpaid workforce.

We are not simply calling for the minutes to be published. We are calling for the minutes to accurately reflect the conversation that took place about why the vice-chancellor got the pay rise. If no discussion took place then universities have some serious questions to answer about accountability.

Ministers have been politely asking vice-chancellors to rein in their embarrassingly large increases for years with no effect. The time has come for the government to formally step in and make the minutes of remuneration committees publicly available, including detailed reasons for increases.

They should also ensure that there are staff and students on the committees and they should collate and publish an annual list of the pay and benefits of vice-chancellors and principals.

Without these important measures, vice-chancellors’ eye-watering rises will remain cloaked in secrecy and the accusations of hypocrisy when it comes to academic pay will continue.

Top 10 vice-chancellor earners

Biggest 10 increases minutes please

Sally Hunt is general secretary of the University and College Union

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