The UK’s new higher education watchdog, the Office for Students, has been keeping an eye on vice-chancellors’ salaries and says that there are signs of pay restraint at some universities “with some vice-chancellors refusing a salary increase”.

The OfS, which became operational last April with a mandate to regulate universities and other higher education providers, found that six universities paid their vice-chancellors £500,000 or more in salary, bonuses and benefits last year ($A701,550 – on current rates one Australian dollar equals 0.55 sterling) and nearly half of all VCs received more than £300,000.

As reported in The Guardian, average pay for senior staff (not including benefits, such as accommodation and pension), rose by 3.5% in a year, from £245,000 to £253,000.

“Below the most senior level, more than 60% of universities increased the number of staff paid £100,000 and above in 2017-18. Overall, there was a 15% rise in staff in the £100,000-plus pay band.”

The OfS said there was evidence “that at least some providers are showing pay restraint”.

It said publishing information about remuneration and compensation for loss of office ensured it was in the public domain, adding – “transparency will help providers’ remuneration committees and governing bodies to benchmark more effectively”.

“It will also help staff and students push for changes in a provider’s approach to remuneration where it is out of step with stakeholders’ expectations.”


VC pay a hot topic

VC pay has been a hot topic in the UK (See CMM UK vice-chancellors salaries spark controversy).

In 2017, for example, The Sunday Times reported that England’s university leaders had accepted “inflation-busting pay rises of up to 10% this year in defiance of government demands to rein in their six-figure salaries”.

Meanwhile The Daily Mail reported on an academic study which found that remuneration of vice-chancellors “rose by a staggering 54 per cent between 1997 and 2015 – nearly four times that of an average lecturer”, adding that annual increases in VC pay “are not readily explainable by performance or other indicators”.

According to the OfS, their new analysis shows that 1.5 per cent of staff in the sector received a basic salary of more than £100,000 a year in 2017-18 (up from 1.3 per cent in 2016-17) while “the proportion of staff receiving a basic salary of greater than £100,000 fell at 48 providers”.

The OfS Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge said it was not for the OfS to set a vice-chancellor’s pay.

“We understand that running a university is a significant and complex task, and it is right that those who excel in their roles should be well rewarded,” she said.

“Despite this, where pay is out of kilter, or salary increases at the top outstrip pay awards to other staff, vice-chancellors should be prepared to answer tough questions from their staff, student bodies and the public.”


Some VCs refuse salary increase

She added that it was good “to see signs of pay restraint at some universities, with some vice-chancellors refusing a salary increase.”

“A number of governing bodies have reduced the basic pay of their vice-chancellor, though we acknowledge that it can be difficult to revisit contractual obligations while a vice-chancellor is in post. We expect to see further progress next year.

“Universities receive significant funding, both in the form of direct grant drawn from public taxation as well as funding from student loans.”

As reported in The Guardian, the University and College Union said the continued rise in pay for university chiefs showed that the OfS was a “paper tiger” that had failed to halt the increase in wealth being transferred to senior management.

“The OfS fails to ask why some vice-chancellors are still picking up double-digit pay rises and doesn’t even look at their expenses or other benefits in kind. This report sends a message that those who accept such largesse have nothing to fear from the new regulator,” Matt Waddup, the University and College Union’s head of policy.


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