Half of elite university bosses handed larger pay packets despite crackdown

Eleanor Busby
The University of Liverpool imposed academic sanctions on hundreds of students who missed rent payments: Wikimedia Commons

Half of bosses at Britain’s elite universities have been handed larger pay packets despite a crackdown on six-figure salaries, analysis shows.

Eleven of the 24 Russell Group universities, which are traditionally the most selective in the UK, have increased their bosses’ pay packets in the past year despite anger among students and academics.

The average pay and benefits package for a vice-chancellor in the elite group is now £380,000 and the Imperial College London president, Alice Gast, tops the table with a total remuneration of £554,000.

University leaders have been called “out of touch” as unions have warned that more strike action could be on the horizon if vice-chancellors fail to listen to academics’ concerns about their pay and conditions.

An analysis of the 2018-19 financial accounts of Russell Group members, carried out by The Independent, reveals that a number of vice-chancellors were given above-inflation pay rises.

Dame Janet Beer, vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, saw her salary and benefits package rise by 12.8 per cent – from £363,500 to £410,000.

Meanwhile, Hugh Brady, vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, saw his remuneration increase by £9,000 last year – from £373,000 to £382,000, a 2.4-per-cent rise.

The heads of Durham, UCL, Warwick and Glasgow also received inflation-busting pay rises.

The consumer prices index was 1.3 per cent in December 2019.

Sir David Eastwood, leader of the University of Birmingham, a post that is traditionally among the best-remunerated, was given £450,000 in 2018-19 – a £6,000 increase on the year before, a 1.4-per-cent increase.

The salary rises come despite repeated calls from ministers, students and academics for pay restraint.

University and College Union (UCU) members at Russell Group universities remain in a dispute with vice-chancellors.

Last month, staff staged an eight-day walkout, the second wave of strikes at universities in less than two years, over their pensions, pay and working conditions.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: “University staff are not going to be lectured on austerity or the necessity to hold down pay, worsen conditions and increase pension contributions from out of touch vice-chancellors whose own recent record on pay and perks has shamed the higher education sector.

“Staff have simply had enough and that is why they walked out on strike before Christmas, and are prepared to do so again if vice-chancellors continue to deny them fair pay and decent conditions.”

However, the financial accounts show some of the top universities have cut the pay packages awarded when they have appointed new vice-chancellors after six-figure salaries have been in the spotlight.

Sir Christopher Snowden, the former leader of the University of Southampton, earned £423,000 a year despite thousands of students calling for it to be cut. But his replacement Mark Smith is on £287,000.

But many students, who pay up to £9,250 a year in fees, still say the salaries are still too high.

A National Union of Students (NUS) spokesperson said: “Tuition fees have also sky-rocketed and students rightly expect their money to be spent on teaching and the student experience, not ever-increasing executive pay.

“All universities, not just the Russell Group, need to be prepared for more industrial action and disruption unless they give a clear commitment to tackle these inequalities, such as introducing clear pay rations for senior staff.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said in a statement: “Russell Group universities make a major contribution to the UK economy, society and culture, and it is vital that our members can attract and retain those with the right skills and experience to lead increasingly large, complex global operations.

“However, we recognise the importance of maintaining the confidence of staff, students and the wider public over senior pay.

“Russell Group universities are taking a lead in acting responsibly, taking action to ensure the process for pay-setting arrangements is as rigorous and transparent as possible. In 2018-19, half of Russell Group universities reduced vice-chancellor pay, and overall awards across the group are down by almost 2 per cent.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Universities receive significant amounts of public funding, so it is only right that their senior staff pay arrangements command public confidence and deliver value for money for both students and taxpayers.”

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