By any standards the remuneration package given to Professor Patrick Johnston, the new vice-chancellor of Queen's University, is a generous one. A salary of £249,000, a house and the use of a car, makes him one of the highest – if not highest – paid people in the public sector. Little wonder some will cast envious eyes in his direction, while others will feel that his package is too high.
In the university's defence, it has to be accepted that several other vice-chancellors in the elite Russell Group, of which Queen's is a member, are paid considerably more. Secondly it must also be recognised that Queen's has found a high-calibre figure for the post. He is a man who has helped transform cancer care in the province, using his own expertise and availing of his worldwide contacts. Queen's University is important to the local economy. It generates a large amount of income, produces world-class research and turns out high grade graduates whose expertise is needed to create value-added employment here.
Yet the university cannot exist in an ivory tower. It must take heed of the world around it and the fact that Professor Johnson's salary is £19,000 higher than that of his predecessor – a rise almost equivalent to the average wage in the province – will lead to some questions. Was it really necessary to offer this increase? The argument that high fliers will move abroad unless they get more and more money is one that has never been proved and the new vice-chancellor has never appeared to be a man motivated by financial gain.
As well, this is a time of belt-tightening in the public sector. It is important to send out the right signals. Such huge salaries at the executive level of the university will not sit well with the student body – and their parents – who find themselves saddled with ever increasing debt burdens because of crippling tuition fees. Yet even the critics will concede that Professor Johnston is a fine choice for the job and will wish him well in the task of steering the university into the future.