The new head of Queen's University will be paid a salary of almost £250,000, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
Professor Patrick Johnston takes up the post of vice-chancellor next month – but has caused controversy even before he begins work because of his massive pay packet.
His £249,000-a-year package, which is a £19,000 hike on his predecessor's wage, will turn attention back on to public sector wages at a time when the focus is on rebalancing the economy.
Although the huge salary – which is £100,000 more than Prime Minister David Cameron is paid – has drawn criticism, Queen's said it was competitive and justified.
Rotha Johnston, who chairs the committee which determined Prof Johnston's pay, said it was "the right level" for a world-class academic.
"We have looked at similar universities and we have benchmarked the salary that is offered, and I am personally satisfied that the salary is the right level of salary and is competitive," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
However, Mike Larkin, who is president of the University and College Union branch at Queen's, hit out at the "rank hypocrisy" of university pay.
"How can vice-chancellors or universities justify these big pay increases for the managers while driving down the pay of the people who do the teaching, research, administration, mentoring and many other roles that keep our universities ticking over?" he said.
Professor Johnston, who succeeds Sir Peter Gregson, becomes the 12th vice-chancellor in the university's 168-year history. Professor Gregson left his £230,000-a-year position last July.
The process of appointing a replacement took Queen's on a global hunt, with 50 top academics from across the world applying for the post.
According to Mrs Johnston – who is no relation – they interviewed a significant number before opting for Professor Johnston, who was Dean of the School of Medicine, Dentistry and Biomedical Sciences at Queen's.
The 55-year-old, who is from Londonderry, is the university's first Northern Ireland vice-chancellor since Peter Froggatt, who stepped down in 1986.
Professor Johnston will be appointed for an initial six-year period, with the option of a second six-year term if his performance is deemed to be satisfactory.
The package includes accommodation in the vice-chancellor's lodge – a luxurious three-storey property set in its own landscaped gardens at Lennoxvale, off the Malone Road in south Belfast.
He will also have use of a car for university business. Although the £249,000 wage will attract most interest, Mrs Johnston said it was important to look beyond the figure.
She said the salary falls £100,000 below that of other universities in the elite Russell Group.
The average salary in the group, which comprises leading UK universities including Queen's, was almost £293,000 last year, according to a recent analysis of 19 of its 24 members.
"I accept that a salary of £249,000 looks a large figure – it is a large figure, but benchmarked against similar institutions and against the other candidates that we saw in the field, it actually is a competitive salary," added Mrs Johnston.
"The media will quickly jump on the figure but I think that will do an injustice to what we are trying to achieve at Queen's.
"We went through a process that was very thorough and global-reaching – it was far and wide."
Prof Johnston's salary is 11 times the average wage in Northern Ireland, which stands at £21,836.
Professor Johnston's appointment comes less than two years after he was named in a damning report examining a failed attempt to establish a cutting-edge medical research facility in Belfast.
Stormont's Public Accounts Committee branded the Bioscience and Technology Institute one of the starkest examples of incompetence and mismanagement ever seen in Northern Ireland.
The institute collapsed in 2002 without delivering any of its goals while leaving the taxpayer with a £2.2m bill.
Prof Johnston was one of four original directors on BTI's board.
Although much of the focus centred on Teresa Townsley and her husband, Michael, the Audit Office inquiry concluded responsibility went beyond her.
It said "the directors as a whole were ultimately responsible for corporate governance".
Mrs Johnston said she was satisfied that Prof Johnston had acted properly, and had attempted to bring the matter to public attention.