Westminster Accounts reveal MPs with second jobs in universities

MPs earn more than £250,000 from roles in sector, while all-party parliamentary groups get in excess of £500,000

一月 20, 2023
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MPs have earned at least £250,000 for work in the UK higher education sector since the last election.

Times Higher Education has analysed data from The Westminster Accounts, a joint project between Sky News and Tortoise Media, which looks at the earnings, donations, gifts, and financial benefits parliament has received since December 2019.

The figures reveal that 17 MPs have earned more than £210,000 between them for working at British universities over this time – which comes on top of their base salary of £84,144.

Of that, £103,800 was earned by Conservative backbencher Sir John Hayes for working part-time as professor at the University of Bolton. Andrea Jenkyns, the former higher education minister, earned £42,940 as director of Bolton’s National Centre for Higher Education Policy, a thinktank.

It also included £37,740 to Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge for working as chair of council at Royal Holloway, University of London, and £9,810 from the University of Warwick to former attorney general Sir Jeremy Wright for working as a professor of practice.

Stuart Wilks-Heeg, professor of politics at the University of Liverpool, said many examples will be perfectly reasonable but legitimate questions can be asked of those at the “outer margins”.

“If you have an MP who’s contributing to the university in a meaningful way – research expertise or teaching, and then receiving small amounts of money for it – I don’t see a problem with it,” he told THE.

“But if they’re receiving quite significant sums, which for another person would add up to their annual salary, and it’s not really clear what they’re doing, then I am concerned.”

Despite the Owen Paterson lobbying scandal of 2021, there are currently no rules preventing MPs having second jobs.

Mirko Draca, director of the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy at the University of Warwick, said there was a reasonable argument for increasing MPs’ wages but outside earnings would then have to be restricted because they can be a “moral hazard”.

“They [universities] would say they get the expertise of a politician, but the concern would be that this is just another mechanism or channel for lobbying,” he added.

However, there can be benefits from employing members of the legislature, says Justin Fisher, professor of political science at Brunel University London.

“Lots of MPs take second jobs and if push came to shove I would probably say there’s greater benefit in them having a second job in a university than there is as a director of a plastics firm in Uttoxeter,” he said.

“You might think if an MP has to experience the joys of government regulation in universities, they might think rather differently about the pain that they inflict on us.”

Outside universities, former universities minister Chris Skidmore received £32,310 for providing advice to Oxford International Education Group.

In total, MPs received at least £280,390 from UK higher education universities, societies, and higher education-focused organisations – including £255,080 in earnings, £24,410 in donations and £900 in gifts and benefits.

The Westminster Accounts – which are being gradually updated – do not specify if the MPs kept any of the money for themselves or donated it to charity.

Wyn Grant, professor emeritus at the University of Warwick, said MPs being employed in higher education was “dubious ethically” and questioned whether there was much value in it.  

“[It would be] far better to develop relationships with local constituency MPs and at national level with party spokespersons and ministers,” he said.

“I think funding political parties, even indirectly, is not the business of universities and undermines their autonomy.”

Professor Grant was also sceptical about the value in giving money to all-party parliamentary groups, which are “often run by lobbyists and are not very effective anyway”.

APPGs, groups of MPs with shared interests, have received a further £536,000 from the British higher education sector via financial benefits or benefits-in-kind.

“I suspect it’s an attempt to translate research into impact or in some cases just to get the university’s name known in the political arena”, said Professor Wilks-Heeg.

“I doubt it’s terribly successful because I don’t think APPGs really have that much influence.”

Dr Draca said institutions could be criticised for trying to buy influence in this way, but argued there were legitimate issues the sector might want to raise, particularly with the current government.

“Normally we would think lobbying is not a desirable thing because the motives are rent-seeking but in the current environment of policy dysfunction we can see a big window for legitimate and needed lobbying.”




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