University vice-chancellors earning more than the prime minister will be asked to prove they are worth it as part of a clampdown on accelerating pay increases among higher education leaders.
“When pay levels are exceeding those of the prime minister, it’s important they are justified by exceptional performance,” he is expected to say, in a speech outlining the government’s plans to secure value for money for students.
As concern grows about students’ increasing debt burden, the government has come under pressure to investigate high vice-chancellor pay amid accusations that tuition fees are being used to inflate the pay packets of senior management.
Last week the former education minister Lord Adonis called for an inquiry. He highlighted the case of Glynis Breakwell, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, claiming her salary had gone up by 11% this year to £451,000 – more than three times Theresa May’s £143,000 pay packet.
Johnson has made no secret of his concern about inflated vice-chancellor pay in the past. Now, in cases of exceptionally high pay, he wants the Office for Students, the higher education regulatory body that comes into force next year, to demand evidence that demonstrates a vice-chancellor merits the reward.
In an interview with the Guardian, Johnson said: “I want the ratcheting up of vice-chancellors’ pay to come to an end. Universities need to show leadership. I want exceptional pay to be justified by exceptional performance.”
The minister was speaking ahead of a Commons debate on Wednesday about increasing tuition fees to above £9,000. The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, demanded that no increases should take place without votes in both the Commons and Lords.
However, her speech was repeatedly punctuated by interventions from Conservative MPs accusing Labour of abandoning its plan on wiping student debts, to which Rayner responded by saying this had never been a commitment.
She, in turn, accused the government of breaking its own promises over a vote on tuition fees and called on Johnson to “guarantee that no students will have to pay a higher fee until both houses have such a resolution allowing it”.
In what appeared to be a concerted Conservative attack, Johnson began by accusing Labour of backsliding over wiping existing tuition fee debts. “The party opposite wants to talk about process because its policy platform is disintegrating before our eyes,” he said.
Johnson also argued that increased fees had been “extensively debated” during the passage of the last higher education bill, with several votes.
“This is hardly new terrain for parliament,” he said. “The government made it clear as far back as June 2015’s budget that maximum tuition fees would rise in line with inflation. And I set out changes to fees in detail for 2017/18 in a WMS [written ministerial statement] in July 2016.”
Johnson added: “And the regulations are now proposed, as the honourable member opposite says – they have now been in force for six months. This debate, which cannot change arrangements for 2017/18, is therefore a sham exercise.”
In his speech to university leaders and representative bodies at the thinktank Reform, Johnson is also expected to outline proposals for all universities to draw up stronger contracts with their students, which clearly set out what a student can expect from a university education.
This article was written by Sally Weale and Peter Walker, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 19th July 2017 19.01 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
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