Ma­jor­ity of univer­sity lead­ers in­volved in set­ting own pay

The Guardian - - FRONT PAGE - Ed­u­ca­tion correspondent Sally Weale

The ma­jor­ity of univer­sity vice-chan­cel­lors are ei­ther mem­bers of the com­mit­tee that de­cides their salary or are al­lowed to at­tend its meet­ings, ac­cord­ing to re­search that will stoke con­cerns about the fair­ness of ex­ec­u­tive pay in higher ed­u­ca­tion.

A free­dom of in­for­ma­tion (FOI) re­quest by the Univer­sity and Col­lege Union (UCU), which rep­re­sents univer­sity staff, found 95% of univer­sity lead­ers are ei­ther mem­bers of their re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tee or are en­ti­tled to at­tend. The find­ings will anger crit­ics who have ac­cused vice-chan­cel­lors of pay­ing them­selves in­flated salaries – while stu­dents ac­crue huge debts – via “shad­owy” re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees that lack trans­parency.

Only seven of the 158 in­sti­tu­tions sur­veyed said their vice-chan­cel­lor was ef­fec­tively barred from at­tend­ing. Of those who re­sponded, 47% said he or she was a mem­ber of the re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tee. Of those who were not mem­bers, 67 were al­lowed to at­tend.

The FOI re­quest also asked in­sti­tu­tions to send full min­utes of the most re­cent meet­ing of their re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tee. Three quar­ters of uni­ver­si­ties failed to send full min­utes; 89 in­sti­tu­tions (55%) shared min­utes, but only 40 did so with­out any redac­tions.

Fresh guide­lines on se­nior ex­ec­u­tive pay pub­lished by the Com­mit­tee of Univer­sity Chairs (CUC) last month made clear that vice-chan­cel­lors should not sit on the com­mit­tees de­cid­ing their salaries and should play no part in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing, but crit­ics com­plained the guid­ance was vol­un­tary and lacked teeth.

It was drawn up in re­sponse to grow­ing pres­sure from politi­cians, in­clud­ing the for­mer uni­ver­si­ties min­is­ter Jo John­son and Labour’s for­mer ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter An­drew Ado­nis, who have con­demned ris­ing VC salaries and the lack of trans­parency.

The code is out for con­sul­ta­tion and is ex­pected to be adopted this year. The new univer­sity reg­u­la­tor, the Of­fice for Stu­dents,

has warned that it will in­ter­vene if the sec­tor can­not put its house in or­der.

Last year the Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Fund­ing Coun­cil for Eng­land (HEFCE) said over­sight of the Univer­sity of Bath vice-chan­cel­lor, Gly­nis Break­well’s pay, which peaked at £468,000 a year, lacked trans­parency and that the rep­u­ta­tion of the univer­sity had been dam­aged by its han­dling of the mat­ter when con­cerns were raised.

UCU gen­eral sec­re­tary Sally Hunt called for all vice-chan­cel­lors to be re­moved from re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees and barred from at­tend­ing meet­ings. She said staff and stu­dents should be given seats on the com­mit­tees and all min­utes made pub­lic.

“For too long uni­ver­si­ties have got away with paint­ing re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees as in­de­pen­dent bodies to de­flect at­ten­tion over se­nior pay. The time has come for proper trans­parency of se­nior pay and perks.”

Uni­ver­si­ties UK, which rep­re­sents in­sti­tu­tions in the sec­tor, said: “It is right to ex­pect that the process for de­ter­min­ing se­nior univer­sity staff pay is rig­or­ous and trans­par­ent.

“The CUC’s new re­mu­ner­a­tion code … will pro­vide im­por­tant guid­ance for univer­sity re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees to en­sure se­nior pay de­ci­sions are fair, ac­count­able and jus­ti­fied, while recog­nis­ing that com­pet­i­tive pay is nec­es­sary to at­tract first rate lead­ers.”

Ac­cord­ing to the UCU, the av­er­age pay for vice-chan­cel­lors in 2005/06 was £165,105 (not in­clud­ing pen­sions), which in­creased by 56% over the next decade to £257,904 in 2015/16.

Next week UCU mem­bers at 61 uni­ver­si­ties will launch four weeks of strike ac­tion, to protest against planned changes to their pen­sions, which they say will mean a typ­i­cal lec­turer will re­ceived £10,000 a year less in re­tire­ment.

Ac­cord­ing to the FOI re­sponses, uni­ver­si­ties where the vice-chan­cel­lor is a mem­ber of the re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tee in­clude Cam­bridge, Birm­ing­ham, Liver­pool and Sh­effield. In­sti­tu­tions where they are not in­clude Ox­ford, Im­pe­rial Col­lege, King’s Col­lege Lon­don, Ed­in­burgh, Bath and Leeds – though all but Ox­ford said their vicechan­cel­lor was al­lowed to at­tend.

It is im­pos­si­ble to know ex­actly which vice-chan­cel­lors are at­tend­ing the meet­ings, but with­out hard and fast rules bar­ring them, the sys­tem is open to abuse, the UCU ar­gues.

Fif­teen uni­ver­si­ties re­fused to re­spond to the ques­tion, and in some of the min­utes sup­plied the names of those who had at­tended was redacted.

Lord Ado­nis said: “This [re­search] un­der­lines the crit­i­cism I have been mak­ing of the poor gov­er­nance of uni­ver­si­ties, which has led to dis­grace­ful pay lev­els for vice-chan­cel­lors.

“If the Of­fice for Stu­dents was do­ing its job, it would halt this im­me­di­ately – but its own chief ex­ec­u­tive is the for­mer chief lob­by­ist for the vicechan­cel­lors [Ni­cola Dan­dridge was for­merly chief ex­ec­u­tive of Uni­ver­si­ties UK], so she man­i­fests the very con­flict of in­ter­est she is sup­posed to be reg­u­lat­ing.”

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