Vice-chancellors at 81% of universities continue to attend renumeration meetings where their pay is set despite past pay-related scandals, the University and College Union (UCU) has found.
Of 139 respondents to Freedom of information (FOI) requests sent by the UCU this year, 109 vice-chancellors attended said meetings, which is 81% of the respondents.
This figure was 6% less in the 2017/18 academic year. It was also revealed that Professor Stuart Croft, vice-chancellor of the University of Warwick, is not a member of the renumeration committee and does not attend related meetings.
The UCU also sent requests for copies of the most recent minutes from renumeration meetings, to which 32% of universities with a remuneration committee complied. Warwick did not respond to this request under the exemption clause ‘Personal Information’ where senior members of staff may be identified.
Paul Cottrell, the union’s general secretary, commented: “As a minimum, vice-chancellors need to be removed from remuneration committees and staff and student places guaranteed. There must also be full disclosure of the committee’s minutes and the justification behind senior pay and perks.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Education (DfE) also said: “It should not be the case that vice-chancellors are part of the committee that sets their own pay – the committee of university chairs has even made this clear through its remuneration code, and we expect a high level of transparency when it comes to universities disclosing this information.”
It is shocking that at the height of the senior pay scandals, a vast majority of our universities thought it was fine for the vice-chancellor to still attend the meeting where their pay was set
– Paul Cottrell
The nine institutions where the vice-chancellor was a member of the renumeration committee were the universities of Aberdeen, Chichester and Portsmouth; Cranfield, Coventry, and Liverpool Hope universities, Heythrop and Rose Bruford colleges, and the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
In comparison, 66 institutions allowed their vice-chancellor to vote on their renumeration. The practice of banning vice-chancellors from voting follows various national controversies over their pay.
For example, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Bath stepped down after it was discovered in 2017 that she was the highest paid university head in the UK, making a yearly salary of £468,000 without added expenses.
Similarly, the former vice-chancellor at De Montfort University, who was connected to the head of the renumeration committee and revealed to be given a 22% pay rise from £286,000 to £350,000 for the 2017/18 academic year, also stepped down.
Last year, the University of Bolton’s vice-chancellor was also accused of “lacking self-awareness” after it was found that he was awarded a £66,000 pay rise, pushing his wages above the national average.
“It is shocking that at the height of the senior pay scandals, a vast majority of our universities thought it was fine for the vice-chancellor to still attend the meeting where their pay was set,” Mr Cottrell said.
“The recent pay and perks scandals at our universities have been incredibly damaging, yet these figures suggest that the higher education sector still refuses to act. If the OfS won’t deal with the issue then the government needs to enforce stronger governance at the top tables of our universities.”
Where issues with senior staff pay lead to concerns over governance, the OfS should consider carrying out independent reviews of a provider’s management adequacy to ensure that these arrangements are fit for purpose
– Department for Education
Earlier this year, the Office for Students (OfS) published a report on senior staff pay at universities, which showed that nearly half of the vice-chancellors in England were paid more than £300,000 a year, with six on £500,000 or more.
“Where issues with senior staff pay lead to concerns over governance, the OfS should consider carrying out independent reviews of a provider’s management adequacy to ensure that these arrangements are fit for purpose,” the DfE said.
The University of Warwick and their UCU branch has been contacted for comment.
UPDATE (27/6/2019): Speaking to The Boar, Warwick UCU President Duncan Adam stated: “Warwick UCU believes that it is entirely proper that the VC should not sit on a body which decides his own pay, and we are pleased that Warwick’s practice on this matter is better than many other institutions.
“However, we do note that the overall package the VC receives increased by £17,000 on the previous year, and the basic pay increased by over 5.5% – an uplift much higher than our members received. The VC’s salary package of £349K is 9.1 times the median salary of all directly employed staff and 6.4 times the salary of the median academic salary. We would question whether such ratios can be justified by any objective criteria.
“Our comments about the VC’s salary are not passing judgement on his performance in the role. In some matters – pensions being the most obvious example – the stance taken by the VC is one that Warwick UCU is able to support.”