Revealed: How university vice-chancellors set their own pay

Written By: James Douglas
Published: February 25, 2018 Last modified: February 24, 2018

The vast majority of UK university heads can attend the committee that sets their pay, according to a new survey from the UCU university and college lecturers’ union.

It found that the vice-chancellor was either on the committee that sets their pay or allowed to attend its meetings at 95 per cent of UK universities. And three-quarters of institutions will not release full minutes of the pay committee’s meeting.

The findings are part of research looking into pay, perks and transparency at the top of universities by UCU covering the academic year 2016-17.

The union sent a Freedom of Information request to 158 institutions asking about membership of their remuneration committee which sets vice-chancellor pay — and asked for a copy of the most recent committee minutes.

When asked about the vice-chancellor’s membership of the remuneration committee, 15 universities refused to respond and one said they did not have a remuneration committee. Of those that did respond, almost half (47 per cent) said the vice-chancellor was a member.

Only a quarter of universities sent unredacted minutes of the latest remuneration committee meeting. Eighty-nine (55 per cent) universities said they would share the minutes, but just 40 of them were prepared to do so without redacting them fully or in part.

UCU research showed that the average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005-06 was £165,105 and increased by 56.2 per cent to £257,904 in 2015-16.

The union said there had to be radical change to how senior pay was set and governed in universities. General secretary Sally Hunt said: “It is quite staggering that just seven universities say their vice-chancellor was neither a member of the committee that sets their pay, nor allowed to attend the meetings. 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 in our universities and that starts with full disclosure of the shadowy remuneration committee. It is scandalous that three-quarters of universities refuse to issue full minutes of these meetings.”

UCU also revealed that incoming principal at Edinburgh University, Professor Peter Mathieson, has been given a 33 per cent salary hike as part of a welcome package worth £410,000.

Mathieson will be paid a basic salary of £342,000 — £85,000 more than predecessor Sir Timothy O’Shea. He will also receive £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions and relocation costs of £26,000, taking his package up to £410,000. He also gets to live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.