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University bosses earn £268,000 on average, study shows

Four departing university leaders shared almost £1 million in departure payments, figures show

University bosses took home pay packages worth more than £268,000 on average last year, figures show.

A new analysis reveals that UK vice-chancellors saw their pay rise by just over £10,000 on average (4%) in 2016/17, nearly four times the 1.1% increase awarded to staff.

The data also shows that four higher education leaders shared nearly £1 million between them in payouts as they retired or stepped down.

The figures come amid growing concerns about spiralling pay for university bosses, with several high-profile figures, including ministers, calling for restraint.

  • £268,103 - salary, bonuses and benefits
  • £10,180 - increase in average pay compared to 2015/16
  • £289,756 - average pay package including pension contributions

The Times Higher Education analysis of university financial accounts examines the cost of the highest office, usually the vice-chancellor, at each UK institution.

It shows that vice-chancellors received an average of £268,103 in salary, bonuses and benefits in 2016/17.

This is up 3.9% – £10,180 – compared with 2015/16.

With employer pension contributions taken into account, the average pay package was £289,756, up 3.2% on the year before.

A total of 13 institutions paid more than £400,000 for the office of the vice-chancellor in 2016/17, the Times Higher calculated, while 64 paid more than £300,000.

These figures may be skewed by a number of large payouts handed to leaders that were leaving office.

The Times Higher calculated that if universities that had a change of leadership in 2015/16 or 2016/17 were excluded from its calculations, average pay is £268,291, or £289,259 including pensions contributions.

The university paying the largest amount for the office of vice-chancellor was Bath Spa University.

Professor Christina Slade, who served as head of the institution until August last year, was paid £808,000, including £429,000 as “compensation for loss of office”.

The university has said that after taking legal advice, the institution had given Prof Slade a sum that “reflected her contractual and statutory entitlements and was considered to represent value for money”.

The current vice-chancellor, Professor Sue Rigby, is paid £206,500, plus a payment in lieu of pensions contributions of £36,250, and may get a bonus of up to £19,200.

Pay for the vice-chancellor’s office at Sussex University totalled £545,000 in 2016/17. However, they also had a change in leader.

Outgoing chief Professor Michael Farthing, was handed £230,000 when he stepped down in August 2016 “in lieu of notice”, according to the institution annual accounts.

In total, he was paid £252,000 including the departure payout, pension and benefits, while his successor, Professor Adam Tickell, had a pay package of £293,000.

Sussex has previously said it has an “open and transparent” approach to senior staff pay and had met its “contractual obligations” to Prof Farthing.

There were two other significant payouts, the Times Higher reported.

Prof Cliff Allan, who left Birmingham City University in October 2016, was paid £186,878 as “compensation for loss of office”, in addition to £38,960 in salary, pension contributions and benefits.

A spokesman for the institution said Prof Allan received compensation “in line with the terms of his contract”.

And at Hull University, Calie Pistorius, who stepped down in January last year, was handed £74,000 “in connection with his retirement from office”.

The institution said he was in post for six months after announcing his retirement, during which time he took a three-month sabbatical, before returning for a handover period.

It means that payouts to these four departing leaders, came to a total of £919,876.

The lack of self-awareness is staggering as universities plead poverty to keep down staff pay and try to impose changes that would slash staff pensions Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary

Among institutions which did not change their leader, Bath University had the highest pay package, with Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell taking home at £471,000, including pension and benefits.

Beleagured Prof Breakwell, who has come under fire for her wages in recent months, announced her retirement in November.

A University of Bath spokeswoman said: “The University is undertaking a number of actions to consult with its community on a range of topics including remuneration.”

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Despite months of terrible headlines about senior pay and perks in our universities, some vice-chancellors continue to appear only concerned about looking after themselves.

“The lack of self-awareness is staggering as universities plead poverty to keep down staff pay and try to impose changes that would slash staff pensions.”

A Universities UK spokeswoman said: “It is right to expect that the process for determining senior university staff pay is rigorous and transparent.

“The Committee of University Chair’s new remuneration code, currently being consulted upon, will provide important guidance for university remuneration committees to ensure senior pay decisions are fair, accountable and justified, while recognising that competitive pay is necessary to attract first rate leaders.”

A Hull University spokeswoman said: “Employment contracts of vice-chancellors reflect the requirements of attracting and retaining a high-quality candidate to successfully lead the university in this competitive global sector. It is not uncommon, therefore, to consider terms of departure upon appointment.

“Any such payment in connection to retirement from office is made with the explicit approval of the university’s independent Remuneration Committee, with due consideration to regulatory requirements, and the principles of fairness, proportionality and transparency.”

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