Full dis­clo­sure

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LETTERS -

Con­cerns over lack of trans­parency in de­ci­sions by the Univer­sity of Bath’s re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tee (“Bath gov­er­nance un­der scru­tiny”, News, 24 Au­gust), re­minded me of dis­cus­sions at Ply­mouth Univer­sity six years ago. On 22 Jan­uary 2011, The Daily Tele­graph ran a story head­lined “Row over hike in vicechan­cel­lors’ pay”, which re­ported in­creases of up to one-fifth “just weeks after min­is­ters backed plans to triple the cap on stu­dent tu­ition fees from just over £3,000 to £9,000 a year”.

The re­port said: “The big­gest salary in­crease was at Ply­mouth, which had to cut 220 staff in autumn 2008 in a bid to re­duce over­spend­ing. Its vice-chan­cel­lor, Wendy Pur­cell, was awarded a 20 per cent raise less than a year later, and is now paid £283,000.” By 2011, I was an aca­demic staff mem­ber on the board of gov­er­nors at Ply­mouth, but in 2008 I had led trade union ne­go­ti­a­tions on the re­dun­dan­cies. I was not alone in be­ing shocked.

On 26 Jan­uary, a spokesper­son for the board of gov­er­nors sought to jus­tify the de­ci­sion, telling staff and lo­cal me­dia: “The board’s de­ci­sion brought the vicechan­cel­lor’s salary in line with the sec­tor and is in recog­ni­tion of ex­em­plary lead­er­ship.”

The next day, I wrote to all board mem­bers, in­clud­ing the vice-chan­cel­lor, to reg­is­ter my con­cerns at this re­sponse. I still re­call my feel­ings as my fin­ger hov­ered over the “send” but­ton, con­sid­er­ing the ef­fect it might have on my fu­ture. But as I ex­plained, “the fo­cus is pri­mar­ily on the pro­ce­dural issues for which all of us on the board must share a re­spon­si­bil­ity”. I wrote: “The de­ter­mi­na­tion of se­nior salaries is a sen­si­tive is­sue, and in to­day’s eco­nomic cli­mate it be­comes even more im­por­tant to en­sure that ob­jec­tive cri­te­ria are used in all de­ci­sions. More than that, I be­lieve that this must be done in a way that is open and trans­par­ent, and I do not be­lieve cur­rent pro­ce­dures achieve this.”

As Tom Cut­ter­ham ar­gues, there is a big­ger is­sue of hier­ar­chi­cal work re­la­tions in­volved (“V-c pay re­flects the cul­ture”, Opin­ion, 24 Au­gust), but a start­ing point would be open­ness of re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees.

In 2015-16, in re­sponse to a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest from the Univer­sity and Col­lege Union, three-quar­ters of uni­ver­si­ties re­fused to pro­vide unredacted min­utes of re­mu­ner­a­tion com­mit­tees’ meet­ings. This is an is­sue for the sec­tor, as in­sti­tu­tions are un­likely to ad­dress it alone.

Mike Sheaff

As­so­ciate pro­fes­sor (se­nior lec­turer) in so­ci­ol­ogy, Ply­mouth Univer­sity

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