A new inquiry, by The Guardian, into the pay of British university vice chancellors has revealed some remarkable salary increases. More than 80 heads of British universities now earn more than the Prime Minister. Some have seen salaries double, or even treble, in the last decade. Their pay increases have far outstripped those for most university lecturers.
19 university heads earn over £300,000 a year (including pension contributions). But it's not just the Vice Chancellors, as there is now a distinct layer of extremely well paid university administrators and senior academics: 4000 university managers across the country earn above £100,000 a year. A decade ago very few of them earned six-figure salaries. The eight universities identified as most generous to this elite are: London Business School, University College London, Liverpool, Imperial College, Nottingham, Oxford, King's College in London, and Bristol.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the lecturers' UCU union, has responded to the findings by referring to "snouts in the trough" and saying: "The pay rises senior staff, in particular vice-chancellors, have enjoyed in recent years have been a constant source of ridicule. There is no transparency for the arbitrary rises they receive. Those at the top hide behind the clandestine world of remuneration committees as an excuse for their massive salaries."
The response from Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the vice chancellors' body Universities UK, indicates the link between this mushrooming pay and the increasingly corporate character of higher education. Dandridge tries to justify the increases by saying universities are "highly complex businesses" and claiming: "Salaries of university heads in the UK are comparable with those in competitor countries and are also in line with remuneration packages for directors and chief executives of public and private organisations of a similar size."
These findings are revealed at the same time as the whole higher education sector faces severe cuts and increases in student fees are pushed through. The contrast between super-salaries for the top 4000 staff in UK universities and the picture for other university staff and for students will undoubtedly generate widespread anger. As reported on Thursday, activist Clare Solomon was elected as the next President of University of London Union (ULU) on the back of a desire to defend education from savage cutbacks. She declared she will use her victory as "the springboard for a mass anti-cuts campaign".
Similarly, the militant action by Sussex students reported last week reflects the potential for a fightback by students and staff alike. The new revelations about pay can only deepen the concerns many people have at the injustices in higher education.
Picture: an anti-cuts protest by London Metropolitan University students in March 2009.
This article also appears at Counterfire.