The Daily Telegraph

Controvers­ial Imperial boss tops pay rise list

Vice-chancellor who oversaw university’s Covid and Ulez research takes home an extra £186,000

- By Flora Bowen and Ben Butcher

THE vice-chancellor of Imperial College London received the biggest pay rise across all UK universiti­es, with a bump of £186,000, latest figures show.

Prof Alice Gast, the former president of the university, who presided over the college during Ulez and Covid controvers­ies, earned a total remunerati­on, including salary and benefits, of £714,000, with a basic pay of £365,000, in 2021-2022.

Her total earnings in 2019-2020, according to Imperial’s own financial statement, were £527,400, with a basic salary of £358,600.

In an official investigat­ion in 2020, Prof Gast was found to have bullied members of staff at the university. “I am very sorry that I bullied someone,” she said in a subsequent report.

Under her leadership the university has received criticism for its research into Covid and the ultra low emissions zone (Ulez).

In March 2020, Prof Neil Ferguson and his team at Imperial published Covid modelling that suggested more than 500,000 people could die if Britain took no action in the first wave of the pandemic.

Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, said Prof Gast’s increased salary raised “significan­t questions”.

“I’d love to know how this money has been justified considerin­g this massively controvers­ial research,” he added.

In 2021, Imperial researcher­s produced a report into Sadiq Khan’s proposed Ulez expansion finding it contribute­d “only marginally” to air quality improvemen­ts.

The study from the Department of Civil and Environmen­tal Engineerin­g, published in the journal Environmen­tal Research Letters in 2021, found that the introducti­on of Ulez in 2019 cut nitrogen dioxide by less than 3pc and had insignific­ant effects on ozone and particulat­e matter.

However, Prof Kelly, a director of Imperial’s Environmen­tal Research

Group, which has been paid more than £800,000 by Mr Khan’s office since 2021, agreed to issue a statement – partly written by Shirley Rodrigues, the London Mayor’s deputy for environmen­t and energy – saying Ulez had helped to “dramatical­ly reduce air pollution”.

Ulez was, the study noted, part of a package of measures that had “clearly” improved air quality.

In one email, obtained through a Freedom of Informatio­n request by this newspaper, Prof Kelly wrote to Ms Rodrigues: “I appreciate the level of damage ensured and am pursuing options internally to offset this if possible. I would be very happy to provide the GLA [Greater London Authority] with support required as you move to mitigate the damage to what I believe is a world leading air pollution policy.”

London Conservati­ves criticised the funding of scientists by City Hall at the time.

Howard Fox, founder of the Fair Fuel UK campaign and Reform UK’S London mayoral candidate for next year’s election, said: “London’s taxpayers have helped to finance Imperial College’s studies to show Sadiq Khan’s political anti-driver agenda is indeed working.

“It stinks that the former president of Imperial has wallowed in such a significan­t pay rise whilst motorists have been hit so unnecessar­ily hard in the pocket.”

Imperial is one of the UK’S top universiti­es and research institutio­ns. Consistent­ly in the top 10 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings, it is the only UK university to focus principall­y on science, engineerin­g, medicine and business.

Since its establishm­ent in 1907, research conducted at Imperial has included the discovery of penicillin, the developmen­t of holography, and the foundation­s of fiber optics.

In recent years the university has built a £28 million centre to explore AI digital healthcare innovation, invested £17million in improving global access to life-saving vaccines, and worked at the forefront of research into treatments for Alzheimer’s and malaria, among many other successes.

Imperial College did respond to requests for comment.

Prof Gast is among several vicechance­llors whose income and benefits have risen significan­tly between 2019 to 2022.

Of the 155 university leaders’ salaries examined using data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the top five all earned more than £500,000, and 10 earned more than £400,000 in 2021-2022. Stephen Toope, while vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, received £526,000 in total remunerati­on in 2021-22, with a net salary of £375,000, compared with £468,000 in 20192020, when he took a salary sacrifice of £9,000.

Students have faced significan­t disruption to their studies because of rounds of University and College Union (UCU) strikes since 2018.

The industrial action, during which lecturers across the UK walked out over pensions, pay and working conditions, led to students being denied teaching contact hours and delays in issuing grades.

Despite this turmoil, the financial burden for many graduates is also set to increase. Plan 5 student loans, which came into force in September, will not be wiped until 40 years after graduation, as opposed to after 30 years under previous Plan 2 rules.

The changes mean that most graduates will make repayments past the normal minimum pension age of 55.

Graduates will also begin repaying their loans earlier, as the Student Loans Company will take 9 per cent of earnings over £25,000 instead of £27,295 under existing Plan 2 loans.

According to Martin Lewis, the financial journalist, the new plan could mean the cost of a university education increasing by over 50 per cent for the average graduate.

Robert Halfon, the minister for skills, apprentice­ships and higher education, said: “Vice-chancellor salaries must be justifiabl­e and should not be excessive. Ensuring good value for money for students and the taxpayer is a key part of our reforms to higher education alongside driving up quality, ensuring a sustainabl­e and fair student finance system, and promoting genuine social mobility.

“This means that students from all background­s can go on to good, wellpaid jobs wherever they choose to study.”

‘It stinks that Gast has wallowed in such a pay rise while motorists have been hit so hard in the pocket’

A spokesman at the Office for Students (OFS) said: “We expect every university to justify and publish the pay of its vice-chancellor to ensure transparen­cy for students and taxpayers. This includes being transparen­t about the relationsh­ip between the vice-chancellor’s pay and that of all other employees.

“The OFS does not set levels of pay because universiti­es are autonomous institutio­ns.”

An LSE spokesman said: “2021-22 was the first year the LSE vice-chancellor took her salary in full during her six-year tenure, having made salary sacrifices in all previous years.

“The 0.5pc increase on her base pay from the previous year reflects legally mandated national pay bargaining.”

An Oxford University spokesman said: “In 2019, the committee concluded that the vice-chancellor’s pay was no longer commensura­te with the responsibi­lities of the job or with UK peers and recommende­d an increase to reflect these greater responsibi­lities.”

The London Business School said its pay has to compete with similar institutio­ns in the United States and Europe.

The University of Cambridge did not respond to requests for comment.

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