As students struggle under debt, uni bosses’ pay is going through the roof

More MPs have resigned from Bath's advisory council over sky-high pay. Universities should be forced to come clean over Vice Chancellors' soaring salaries.

£451,000. That’s the amount that the University of Bath’s Vice Chancellor rakes in – and it’s the reason why a fourth MP has resigned from a key advisory board.

While it’s at the top of the pay end, this is part of a worrying trend. Research from the UCU union shows just how much of students’ sky-high fees are going on big pay packets for VCs.

The average package for a vice-chancellor was £257,904 in 2015/2016. 54 Vice Chancellors took home more than £300,000, and eleven were paid more than £400,000.

This is a very big pay hike. When fees were ‘just’ £3,000 per year in 2005, the average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors £165,105. In the past decade it has increased by 56.2% – way above inflation. 

Let’s remember – these are essentially public bodies. Most are registered as charities. But they are at the heart of our education system, they are highly regulated statutory organisations, they receive public money – and however high fees become, they all became successful through our taxes.

Pay inflation at the top is not being matched with pay rises for hard-working staff.

But there’s more to this scandal of high pay – and that’s the fact that most uni staff and students would never know what their work was going to. Universities don’t have to release this information.

That alone should be cause for concern for organisations with such a clear public interest remit.

So you know what? We’ll name and shame the universities that failed to respond – or hid behind FoI Act caveats:

The eight institutions which failed to respond to UCU’s FoI request:

  • University of Bolton (also failed to respond last year)
  • University of Coventry (used an exemption last year to avoid answering any questions)
  • University of Cranfield
  • Edge Hill University (also failed to respond last year)
  • University of Roehampton
  • Rose Bruford College (also failed to respond last year)
  • University of Southampton (also failed to respond last year)
  • Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance 

The five institutions which used exemptions to avoid answering all questions:

  • Anglia Ruskin (failed to respond at all last year)
  • Birmingham City University
  • University of Hull
  • London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • University of St Andrews 

Not replying or trying to get around transparency is bad enough. But there are some worrying conflicts of interests which make this whole sorry scenario even worse.

Today the UCU note that over two-thirds of vice-chancellors sit on the committee that sets their pay. 

How can those committees be expected to make impartial decisions with the VC in the room? Even if, as one would hope and expect, the VC left the room during the decision-making period, the effect of being present for any of the remuneration meetings would surely be to limit opposition. 

And these are just the universities that we know about. Three-quarters of universities refuse to issue full minutes of the VC pay meetings, while 13 universities refuse to answer Freedom of Information requests on Vice-Chancellors’ pay and perks. It’s no wonder why – the findings show these uni bosses spend an average of £7,762 on flights – with two thirds taken in business class. 

This is a woeful level of transparency on information that should be clear in universities’ annual reports. Indeed, the practice of hiding their fat salaries from public eye may even be against Charity Commission guidelines, with Lord Adonis accusing universities of a “potentially illegal cover-up.”

The head of lecturers’ union UCU, Sally Hunt, hit the nail on the head today:

“For too long vice-chancellors have hidden behind the shadowy remuneration committee when it comes to their pay. However, in the majority of cases, the vice-chancellor sits on that committee and the university refuses to issue minutes of the meeting.

“Students and their families are spending more than ever to fund their studies and universities should be fully transparent about how and why they are spending that money. It is time to lift the lid on the secretive world of university remuneration committees.”

If they’re going to keep the broken system of tuition fees, it’s time for proper scrutiny of where that money are going.

Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.

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