The University of Sussex’s former vice-chancellor was given a £230,000 pay-off in his final month in office, Times Higher Education can reveal.
Michael Farthing, who led the university for nine years until August 2016, received the payment “in lieu of notice” on his departure, the university’s latest accounts show. Overall, he was paid £252,000 in the month of August 2016, of which £249,000 was salary and £3,000 employer pension contributions.
Overall, the South Coast university paid £545,000 to its two leaders in 2016-17 as Adam Tickell, the incoming vice-chancellor, was paid £293,000 between September 2016 and July 2017. Of this sum, £17,000 was for relocation costs for the former University of Birmingham provost and £9,000 for employer pension payments.
News of the latest “golden goodbye” for a departing university head follows Times Higher Education’s revelation this week that Bath Spa University’s former vice-chancellor Christina Slade was paid a total of £808,000 last year, including £429,000 “for loss of office”.
Labour peer Lord Adonis will use a House of Lords debate today to call for an independent inquiry on “excessive vice-chancellor pay”, which he believes should be led by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Commenting on the payout, a University of Sussex spokesman said that “in the case of our former vice-chancellor, we met our contractual obligations to him and this has been clearly published in our annual financial accounts”.
“The university’s approach to senior staff remuneration continues to be open and transparent and we take our governance responsibilities and sector compliance requirements very seriously,” he added.
Earlier this week, the Higher Education Funding Council for England announced that it would investigate the six-month sabbatical that will be taken by Dame Glynis Breakwell when she retires as the University of Bath’s vice-chancellor in September. On her current full salary of £468,000, this would equate to a £230,000 payment.
Last week, it emerged that Sir Christopher Snowden, vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, became one of the UK’s most highly paid higher education leaders in 2016-17, on a remuneration package totalling £433,000. This is in comparison with the £352,000 that he was paid the previous year for the 10 months that he was employed, and comes after the institution announced plans to cut 75 academic jobs.
In his final years in office, Professor Farthing attracted much criticism from staff and students as he presided over the outsourcing of hundreds of service staff and the suspension of five students who demonstrated against the changes.
Disciplinary hearings against the “Farthing Five” collapsed in January 2014 and the university was ordered to apologise and offer them compensation after a later investigation by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator in January 2015.
An independent inquiry, published by the university in January 2017, also criticised Sussex’s decision not to suspend a media studies lecturer after he was convicted of assaulting his student girlfriend in June 2016.
Michael Shattock, visiting professor of higher education at the UCL Institute of Education, who researches university governance, said that Sussex’s payment would almost certainly result in a further Hefce investigation.
“Hefce has warned universities about these golden goodbyes so they cannot really avoid some kind of inquiry,” said Professor Shattock. “We now have three cases of payments made to vice-chancellors and if Hefce’s audit team will not start asking questions, I believe the National Audit Office will,” he added.
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