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University chiefs must curb pay excesses, says minister

UNIVERSITIES Minister Jo Johnson said yesterday he would tell higher education bosses to show “restraint” in setting the pay of senior staff, amid a public outcry at the staggering sums received by some vice-chancellors.

Mr Johnson pledged that new regulator the Office for Students (OfS) would ensure greater accountability in how financial packages for vice-chancellors are set in future.

However, he said he was uncomfortable with what he called the “hounding” of individual vice-chancellors over their pay, insisting that he wanted to tackle the problem on a “structural level” instead.

Under the OfS, remuneration committees would be required to have independent chairs, vice-chancellors would not be allowed to have conflicts of interests when it comes to setting their own pay and universities would have to publish their ratio of top pay to median pay.

Mr Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I will be meeting later this week with the chair of Universities UK and the chair of the Russell Group and the chair of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

“I will be repeating my call for restraint. I don’t want to see a continuation of the spiralling pay we are seeing at institutions.”

University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt welcomed the announcement, but insisted that remuneration committees should be more transparent.

“Put simply, the status quo cannot continue and an urgent overhaul is required,” she argued. “We will need more than a slightly different approach from a watchdog.

“Over two-thirds of vice-chancellors sit on their own remuneration committees and three-quarters of universities refuse to publish full minutes of the meetings where leadership pay is decided. That must change.

“We need proper transparency of pay and perks in universities and the time has come for staff and student representatives on remuneration committees.”

Professor Christina Slade, who served as vice-chancellor of Bath Spa University until August, was paid a salary of £250,000 in 2016-17, plus £429,000 as “compensation for loss of office.”

She also received a housing allowance of £320,000, a further £20,000 for “other benefits-in-kind” as well as pension contributions of £89,000.

Her total pay, pensions and benefits came to £808,000.

The figure is likely to make the Australian academic the highest-paid university boss in Britain in 2016-17.

The next highest-paid was Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of the nearby University of Bath.

She earned £451,000 in 2015-16, including benefits, and reportedly took home £468,000 in 2016-17.

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