Just two UK universities provided details of their vice-chancellor’s pay rise for a report looking into the murky world of senior academic pay released yesterday.

  • Four-fifths of universities refuse to even release minutes of committee that sets vice-chancellor’s pay
  • Just two sets of minutes from the 27 received list the vice-chancellor’s pay increase and a reason for it
  • Minutes show university high earners received presentation on how to maximise their pension pot
  • Minutes suggest some vice-chancellors are consulted about their pay package
  • UCU says taxpayers and students have a right to know the reason behind massive pay rises

The report, from UCU, reveals that just 27 out of 139 institutions sent minutes of their remuneration committee – the powerful committee tasked with setting the vice-chancellor’s pay. Of those, half (14) sent redacted minutes and just the universities of Glasgow and Stirling included any sort of details on the pay award.

UCU said the time had come for the lid to be lifted on inflation-busting pay rises for people running universities. UCU called for full details of pay awards and the reasons behind them to be published and staff and student representatives to sit on the clandestine remuneration committees.

Two-thirds of universities (66%) that UCU contacted snubbed its request for the minutes of the committee, often citing confidentiality as the reason. A further 15% did not even respond to the call for information.

Data released last week revealed that vice-chancellors’ salaries and benefits rose by an average of 5.5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13. A fifth of universities thought it appropriate to reward their vice-chancellor or principal an annual increase of at least 10% and around of third enjoyed a rise of between 5-10%. With pension payments, the average vice-chancellor’s pay was £254,692.

The union said the reasons given by the two remuneration committees that did include pay details in their minutes were limited to a few words and exposed the arbitrary nature of the rises.

The University of Glasgow said its principal had provided ‘excellent leadership’ and awarded him a 2% pay rise. Over at the University of Stirling, the committee was less effusive and endorsed a report of ‘strong performance by the university under the principal’s leadership’. He was awarded a 5% rise.

Vice-chancellors say that they have nothing to do with the remuneration committees’ decisions on their pay. However, three of the 27 sets of minutes received – those from the universities of Brighton, Bristol and Dundee – indicated that the vice-chancellor had influenced what would happen to his pay, or that the committee would speak to the vice-chancellor about its plans for his pay (see notes for more).

Just one set of minutes – from Birkbeck – referenced the idea of a union observer on the remuneration committee. However, it was unanimously rejected due to the ‘highly confidential’ nature of the information being considered.

Although the 27 sets of minutes the union received gave little information on pay, UCU was able to ascertain that at least five universities’ remuneration committees (Birmingham City, Brighton, Durham, Strathclyde and Westminster) had enjoyed presentations on how high earners could maximise their pension pots following changes to the pension scheme.

University staff have seen their pay fall by 13% in real-terms since 2009 and have been out on strike six times (three full-day strikes and three two-hour stoppages) since October in their fight for fair pay. Pay talks between the unions and the vice-chancellors’ representatives take place on Tuesday (15 April). UCU’s marking boycott is due to start on Monday 28 April if the dispute has not been resolved.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘Millions of pounds of public money are spent on vice-chancellors’ salaries, yet their pay rise is decided behind closed doors with no accountability.

‘The time has come for the lid to be lifted on the hitherto murky world of remuneration committees and senior pay in our universities. Students are paying £9,000 a year and they, and the taxpayer, have a right to know why so much of their money is going on paying the vice-chancellor.

‘All but five university vice-chancellors earned more than the Prime Minister last year, while staff have been on strike six times this year in protest at a measly 1% pay offer. We believe there is a strong and legitimate public interest to justify these growing six-figure salaries.’

Minutes UCU did receive, and responses from universities refusing to send their minutes through, are available from the press office. See table in notes for institutions’ responses.