A survey of universities across Britain, commissioned by the Times Higher Education| Supplement and published on 2 January, has revealed the stunning hypocrisy of top management in higher education institutions. While seeking to maintain that employers simply cannot afford more than a 1% increase (in real terms another pay cut) for academic and support staff, the vice-chancellors at prestigious Russell Group institutions saw their own salaries rise by an average of 8% last year.
Nineteen of the 24 Russell Group universities responded to the survey and the average basic salary for a vice-chancellor across these institutions now stands at £293,000. Total remuneration packages including pension pot contributions for Russell Group vice-chancellors now top £318,000, though admittedly the average is skewed by packages worth more than £400,000 at the University of Birmingham and London School of Economics.
At Cambridge University, the vice-chancellor, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, saw an increase of a mere £20,000 to £334,000 in 2013. In stark contrast, more than 200 staff are still on hourly rates below the current living wage for the area of £7.65 per hour. In fact, fewer than 20 universities nationally are formally committed to paying the so-called living wage even to directly employed staff.
But the salary bonanza at the top of the higher education sector is hardly confined to the elite Russell Group. Southampton University’s Don Nutbeam saw his basic salary last year shoot up by over £19,000 to £294,000 while his total pay and reward package equated to £333,615. Meanwhile, at the University of the West of England in Bristol the vice-chancellor, Steve West, has a reported package worth just under £315,000 a year.
Confirmation that the top brass at universities are feathering their nest in a fashion similar to the bosses of large private companies can only serve to fuel the anger of university staff, who have seen the real value of their average pay fall by some 13% since 2008. There have so far been two days of previously unprecedented, co-ordinated strike action involving lecturers in the UCU, joined by members of the EIS lecturers’ union in Scotland on 3 December, and support staff who are fellow members of UNISON and Unite. The UNISON Service Group Executive for Higher Education has already called for a further strike, which appears likely to take place on Tuesday 6 February. A successful fight for a substantial pay rise for staff in the nation’s universities would clearly be a great boost to the UNISON-led campaign for a £1.20 an hour rise across the local government employers including Camden covered by the National Joint Council framework.