Russell Group vice-chancellors’ pay averages almost £332K

Elite universities admit they must change remuneration practices despite smaller average pay increase in 2016-17

January 11, 2018
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Vice-chancellors of large research-intensive universities in the UK’s Russell Group were paid nearly £332,000 on average in the past academic year, a Times Higher Education analysis shows.

With the high pay of university leaders in the spotlight in recent months, financial accounts published by the organisation’s 24 members put the average salary and benefits of a Russell Group vice-chancellor at £331,641 in 2016-17.

Once employer pension contributions are included, the average cost of pay packages stood at £355,670.

However, the accounts show that the average remuneration paid to leaders of the UK’s top universities is virtually unchanged from 2015-16 – up by just 0.02 per cent on average, or by 0.1 per cent if pension payments are considered.

One of the biggest rises was at Newcastle University, where there was a 12.6 per cent year-on-year increase equal to £40,000 in 2016-17, when its cost of office was £356,000. The university said that the uplift follows a review of executive remuneration last year, which led to it no longer providing a house for the vice-chancellor or enhanced pension payments. Its current vice-chancellor, Chris Day, who took over from Chris Brink in December 2016, is paid a salary of £306,000 a year.

At some universities, including the London School of Economics, the cost of office fell substantially last year because they had an interim vice-chancellor for much of the academic year, at lower cost.

Top 10 highest-paid vice-chancellors in the Russell Group, 2016-17

Vice-chancellor University Salary plus benefits (£) Overall remuneration including pension (£)
Sir David Eastwood* University of Birmingham 439,000 439,000
Sir Keith Burnett University of Sheffield 426,600 426,600
Sir Christopher Snowden University of Southampton 424,000 433,000
Sir Steve Smith University of Exeter 409,000 424,000
Sir David Greenaway** University of Nottingham 381,000 381,000
Alice Gast Imperial College London 369,000 433,000
Michael Arthur UCL 366,200 372,800
Louise Richardson University of Oxford 366,000 430,000
Dame Janet Beer University of Liverpool 363,300 363,300
Ed Byrne King’s College London 362,000 425,000
Sir Leszek Borysiewicz** University of Cambridge 355,000 362,000

* Excludes long-term bonus plan with maximum value of £80,000, payable at the end of 2019-20

** Now retired

Source: Institutional accounts. All figures rounded to nearest £100

There were no large pay-offs and fewer changes in leaders in 2016-17 than in 2015-16, which inflated overall remuneration that year. Once universities where leadership changeovers led to increased costs in one year or the recruitment of a new vice-chancellor on a lower salary are excluded from calculations, the average pay rise in 2016-17 was 2.7 per cent.

The modest increases in vice-chancellor pay within the Russell Group may help to dampen criticism of executive remuneration in higher education, which hit its peak when THE revealed that Bath Spa’s outgoing vice-chancellor Christina Slade was paid more than £800,000 in her final year in office last year, including a £429,000 pay-off for “loss of office”.

However, Lord Adonis, the Labour peer who has led criticism of what he calls “excessive vice-chancellor pay”, said that this minimal increase in average remuneration was “neither here nor there” in the bigger picture.

Average remuneration around £355,000 was “far too high”, said Lord Adonis, adding that “it should be cut to no more than £200,000.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said that its members agreed that they needed to “take a lead in acting responsibly on this issue in order to regain the confidence of staff, students and the wider public”. The key was to “ensure the process for pay-setting arrangements is as rigorous and transparent as possible”, he said.

“No one would argue that Russell Group vice-chancellors aren’t well remunerated for the difficult job they perform. However, the value our universities bring to the UK economy, society and culture is vast”, and the role is “very challenging and increasingly multifaceted”, Dr Bradshaw continued, which meant that it was important to “attract and hold on to the right people to run these large, complex, global operations to deliver the best outcomes for their students and to society at large”.

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