South African universities are under fire for paying some of their vice-chancellors more than President Thabo Mbeki, especially as those who are paid the most head smaller institutions that are dependent on state funding.
The Mail & Guardian newspaper revealed that Aaron Ndlovu, vice-chancellor of Durban's Mangosuthu Technikon, earned the highest package of just under R3 million (£250,000) in 2003. President Mbeki earns R964,000, while Education Minister Naledi Pandor is paid R746,000.
The top three highest earners head polytechnic-style institutions whose income is mostly derived from the state and which have comparatively low budgets and student numbers.
While most of the heads of leading universities earned salaries in the "upper" category, the newpaper points out that the institutions "derive far less of their total income from the state - only about 50 per cent in some cases".
Vice-chancellors' pay is set by university councils, which comprise 60 per cent of non-academics.
The Government does not regulate senior salary levels, but appears to be under some pressure to do so.
Njabulo Ndebele, vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town and head of the South African Universities Vice-Chancellor's Association, believes concern over pay is not only about whether managers deserve their salaries but whether society feels it is getting value for money.
A SAUVCA team is already looking into top management salaries as part of an initiative aimed to demonstrate higher education's desire for greater efficiency and accountability.
The investigation is likely to extend to salaries across the entire sector and will, wrote Professor Ndebele, be "crucial if the sector intends to achieve self-regulation and if it is to offer value.
"It will also introduce pay guidelines, benchmarks and performance management systems," Professor Ndebele said.