By Luke Footman
The average salary for a vice-chancellor in 2015-16 was £246,000. Pension contributions, benefits and bonuses take that to £281,000. Whereas, starting salaries for higher education (HE) lecturers range from around £33,943 to £41,709.
Vice-chancellors are making 6x more than their academic colleagues who have received an average of 1% annual pay rise since 2012 – a fall in real terms. Compared to the Vice Chancellor, of London Business School, Sir Andrew Likiermanwho saw an increase of 27%within his salary since the introduction of tuition fees.
There is no wonder then why there are real concerns that Vice-Chancellor’s pay packages and perks are out of sync with reality. Especially considering tuition fees have risen drastically over the past decade for students and only last week, the prime minister waded into the row, claiming “the level of fees charged do not relate to the cost or quality of the course”, and adding: “We now have one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”. How can you defend these types of pay brackets when the Prime Minister herself, is outlining that the cost of university has skyrocketed, yet the service or quality of education on offer is no different to that of students who paid £3,000 just a short while ago?
To make matters worse, only a couple of months ago university staff were in a bitter dispute over their pensions that escalated to strikes in over 60 universities. The real question is why are Vice-Chancellors being paid a hefty sum? While their colleagues fight for commonplace benefits that are being handed to senior staff.
Towards the end of this year, there has been plenty written in the press about the pay scandal of senior staff at universities with an adjustment to many senior heads at varying universities. With the new emphasis on “inclusive leadership”, with vice-chancellors working with the executive team and governing bodies as well as being conscious of how students and the public view them.
It will probably come as no surprise that there is also little diversity in top positions of power at universities, however, this is being tackled with major consideration in recruitment firms shortlists for candidates. With the recruitment firm Perrett Laver pledging that half the people they put up for the vice-chancellor role will be women and about a quarter from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.
Can the pay packages be justified?
At first glance, you could argue that these are salaries that match job experience and quite frankly, if you make that kind of money it is under no one else’s business what you spend your hard-earned cash on, right? Nonetheless, Vice-chancellors are answerable to the public sector including taxpayers, politicians, their colleagues and more importantly their students.
The problems can only get tricky when deciding if vice-chancellors high salaries can be justified when there are reports of elaborate expenses, ranging from first-class travel and chauffeur-driven cars to relocating a pet dog.
The debate was intensified in 2016 by the revelation that the University of Bath had provided its vice-chancellor, Dame Glynis Breakwell, with a grace and favour property, a perk condemned by MPs and academics.
The pay packages could possibly be justified with a shake-up of university courses and a shift in real change at the university. However, this brings problems of its own, with no one willing to take risks when it comes to the global corporate marketplace of universities; especially when it ultimately comes down to market competition.
The glass ceiling:
Glynis Breakwell had pay rises worth almost £200,000 over five years, making her the UK’s highest-paid head, despite the institution’s modest size. Staff and students alike criticised the rise. While Breakwell was the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, women remain under-represented in the sector. They also receive lower pay than their male counterparts and in the UK, only 29% of vice-chancellors are women.
University leaders now have lots of support available to ensure that rhetoric and reality match when it comes to diversity. However, it is projected that beyond don’t expect them to be radically different in future: “They still have to keep the core business at heart.”
But, selection committees now receive unconscious bias training and advice on how to develop inclusive assessment processes. This can mean dropping a high-pressure panel interview with the board in favour of discussion groups with students and professional services staff. Yet, the more uncertain the times, the more nervous boards play safe and favour experienced candidates from inside the sector. This all comes down to the corporate business of the university as a product.
Well-paid Vice Chancellors sell the corporate university:
Growing academic wage disparities have coincided with more intense global market competition for students and research funding. Then there is the international marketplace comprising of international students, who pay up to three times more in upfront fees than their domestic peers.
It’s little wonder that universities run expensive marketing campaigns to “strategically differentiate” themselves to gain greater “market share”. Student often forget that they are consumers of the university and more importantly their brands. At the corporate, fiscally driven university, the ability of vice-chancellors and their senior colleagues to generate income is pivotal. This is evidenced in vice-chancellor job descriptions and selection criteria that appear occasionally in flashy brochures.
Also, university leaders now not only have to achieve brilliant graduate outcomes but must broadcast their achievements, communicating to the public the benefits and value for money that their university offers students and the wider community.
We live in an age of transparency, we live in an age of accountability. Vice-Chancellors have enormous pressures from the public sector, but can this really defend those pay cheques and will future vice-chancellors be any different in their approach?