Universities: the senior salary spotlight

Over recent weeks, the salaries of some university leaders have been in the spotlight, and in a manner not calculated to help universities in their necessary drive for wider public support as they pursue their mission. It is clearly a matter in which I have a vested interest, and so I shall not offer any detailed views of my own. It is however worth reading the comments – on both sides of the argument, if this is an argument – recently published in the letters pages of the Guardian newspaper.

While I don’t wish to comment, I would perhaps draw attention to the relevant section of the 2012 review, which I chaired, of higher education governance in Scotland. We recommended:

‘The panel … recommends that remuneration committees should include staff and student members. The work of the committee should be transparent, and in particular, the basis upon which pay is calculated should be published. … We also recommend there should be a standard format for reporting senior officer pay, and the [funding council] should publish these figures annually.’

As with most issues, there are clearly a number of factors to be taken into account in dealing with the appropriateness or otherwise of senior officers’ pay. But transparency and objective justification must at the very least be necessary elements of these processes. If they are not, it is not only the reputations of individual university leaders that will be tarnished, but also their institutions and, ultimately, the higher education sector.

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3 Comments on “Universities: the senior salary spotlight”

  1. Vince Says:

    Objectively the pay of the top managers should be a function of the turnover. Subjectively given the amount of fees charged that would never fly for public opinion.
    What might fly if the pay at the top was a reasonable function of the lowest paid in the institution.
    At the end of the day, we all know there are ways and means for top pay to keep increasing while giving the impression that it’s staying still or even lowering.
    Note, the attempt to split the public work from the private with the Irish consultant surgeons and physicians when no one bothered their backside to actively count their hours.

  2. paul martin Says:

    There was something sinister that a HoL member should pursue a particular VC who despite valiant efforts from various (misjudged or not) had to fall on her sword as she became the story. The charabang moved on to take aim at a man from Soton but seems to have petered out.

    I think the problem has been that those at & near the top of academia have seen themselves as worthy of public sector largesse on a grand scale. It would be revealing to plot those in Glasgow Unis by year whose salary exceeds 6 figures and add, for comparison purposes, the pay increase of teachers further down the (food) chain.


  3. I served as a staff-elected governor for four years. Staff governors were repeatedly assured that we bore equal responsibility for board decisions, but were excluded from the ‘Finance and General Purposes’ (which seemed to do all the serious business) and Renumeration committees. The VC didn’t sit on the Renumeration Committee but did attend.

    All senior university executives received bonuses, but the metric and the amount was never disclosed. The closest I got to an explanation was that executive pay was determined across the sector by circulating a survey and plumping for the median, meaning that as long as they all stuck together, they all got an annual pay rise.

    Meanwhile Professors’ appraisals (I’m not one: I’m a senior lecturer) were routinely set aside by the VC personally, resulting in a loss of increments and pay rises, let alone bonuses. I never once heard an external governor or executive express concern about the money coming from students’ borrowings (we’re small fry for research funding but that top-slicing that didn’t bother them either), nor did they ever seem concerned that teaching and support staff hadn’t had an above-inflation pay rise since 2008.

    I tried to be objective but I came away with the conclusion that the institution was being looted by its executives in the same way that banks were looted by their leadership.


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