Oxford dons hit out at VC in pay row
OXFORD University’s vice-chancellor is at the centre of a backlash from academic colleagues for making comments that appear to have reignited the controversy over soaring salaries.
Prof Louise Richardson waded into the debate about vice-chancellor pay this week, accusing politicians of “mendacious” behaviour and defending the salaries, saying university bosses were poorly paid when compared with footballers and bankers.
Announcing a fresh crackdown on the salaries of university chiefs, Jo Johnson, the universities minister, suggested she should not be in her job if she wanted to be paid like a footballer.
Oxford dons also rounded on her, calling her comments “astonishing”, and asking “why on earth” she would want to weigh in on the debate.
“There is an irritation about this silly comparison with footballers and bankers,” a senior Oxford academic told The Sunday Telegraph.
“It is just astonishing that to some extent [the row] was dying down and then she waded in. Calling politicians tawdry and mendacious has asked for a reaction.” The academic said the com- ments were an “own goal” which only served to reignite the debate.
Three days after Prof Richardson’s comments, Mr Johnson unveiled a series of measures to curb pay hikes, including publishing the number of staff who earn over £100,000 a year.
He said that the Office for Students, a new regulator, would fine institutions that fail to give “clear justification” for paying vice-chancellors £150,000 or more. There is growing concern about the largesse of universities where vice chancellors typically enjoy six-figure packages with grace and favour homes and enhanced pensions.
Mr Johnson appeared to hit back at Prof Richardson, telling an audience of university leaders: “I have heard in recent days a prominent VC noting that she was paid less than footballers or bankers. If university managers want those kinds of wages, I guess they’re not in the right business.”
The Oxford academic who spoke to The Sunday Telegraph said her comments had been derided in Oxford, with colleagues asking: “Why on earth did she say that? Is it wise to call politicians tawdry?” He said her comments had begun to compound a view that Prof Richardson was a “gaff prone VC”.
On Monday Prof Richardson accused politicians of damaging the UK university sector by making “spurious” links between the increase in fees and vice chancellor pay. She told the Times Higher Education’s World Academic Summit: “I think it’s completely mendacious by politicians to suggest that vice-chancellors have used the £9,000 fee to enhance their own salaries.”
She also said: “My own salary is £350,000. That’s a very high salary compared to our academics who I think are … very lowly paid. Compared to a footballer, it looks different; compared to a banker it looks very different.”