The government is facing pressure to investigate the high salaries awarded to university vice-chancellors amid accusations that students’ tuition fees are being used to inflate the pay packets of senior management.
Andrew Adonis, the former education minister, called for an inquiry in the House of Lords as he criticised the “serious controversy” of salary increases awarded to Glynis Breakwell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, along with benefits and non-executive directorships she holds.
“Last year the vice-chancellor earned £406,000. This year, despite the 1.1% cap on pay for non-managerial staff across the higher education sector, the vice-chancellor’s pay rose by 11% to £451,000,” Adonis said.
Noting that the vice-chancellor’s accommodation was “a large house in the historic centre of Bath”, Adonis said: “Put all that together, and Glynis Breakwell is paid almost exactly half a million pounds, more than three times the prime minister’s salary.”
Recent surveys have named Breakwell as the highest-paid British vice-chancellor, compared with an average salary of British VCs of around £250,000. Some others, including Alice Gast, president of Imperial College, London, earn more than £400,000.
Last year Bath had turnover of £260m with 17,000 students on campus, including 30% from outside the UK.
In response, the University of Bath said: “The salary and conditions of service of our vice-chancellor are independently determined by the remuneration committee of our university council and are comparable with that of long-standing vice-chancellors in other successful universities. The increase reported in the 2015-16 accounts reflects her excellent track record and the confidence placed in her leadership of the senior team and the wider university community.”
Adonis said the high pay level for the vice-chancellor was reflected in higher salaries for other staff members at Bath, with 67 staff earning more than £100,000, including 13 who are paid more than £150,000.
Saying he had been contacted by staff and students at Bath over the pay rise, Adonis described a battle between the university’s governing court and the remuneration committee that approved the pay rise.
“The highly paid should set an example to the rest of the community, particularly at a time of pay restraint. The only example the vice-chancellor of the University of Bath is setting to her staff is one of greed,” Adonis said. “That is not my idea of a university; and I doubt it appeals to your lordships either.”
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, appeared to agree with Adonis’s argument. “Universities should heed the guidance I have issued to the sector urging them to show appropriate restraint and to set pay in a way that reflects the fact they are often in receipt of significant public money,” Johnson said.
“Students deserve value for money for the courses they are paying for. One of the central goals of our higher education reforms is to make universities accountable for students’ experience and the quality of education they receive through the teaching excellence framework.”
The assault on VCs’ pay is Adonis’s latest criticism of the higher education sector. Earlier this month, he accused universities in the UK of operating an illegal cartel because they almost all charged the maximum £9,000 a year in undergraduate tuition fees since 2012.
Last week, Adonis described the current system of tuition fees and student loans as becoming “Frankenstein’s monster”, despite admitting he was one of the architects of the system as an adviser to Tony Blair when tuition fees were first brought in under Labour.
The former Labour transport minister sparred over Twitter this week with academics after saying that university staff did not do enough teaching and enjoyed three-month-long summer holidays. The Twitter forays produced an indignant response, with several academics accusing Adonis of being out of touch with modern university life.
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