Average Australian v-c pay packet may top A$1m

While institutional accounts indicate that the average university boss could have pocketed seven-digit earnings last year, 2020 will be a different story

May 20, 2020
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The average Australian vice-chancellor’s pay packet may have reached seven figures last year, newly released institutional accounts suggest. However, million-dollar-plus packages will be a short-lived experience for many of the country’s university leaders, after most relinquished pay to contribute to coronavirus savings measures.

Last year’s remuneration figures have been disclosed in annual reports released so far by the seven public universities in Queensland and four in Western Australia, as well as the University of Canberra and the multi-state Australian Catholic University.

While three of those universities’ leaders suffered declines in their pay packages – encompassing salaries, bonuses, benefits and pensions – eight pocketed increases of between 1 per cent and 8 per cent. And at two universities where the vice-chancellors’ tenures were either consolidating or ending, remuneration rose by 19 per cent or more.

If these pay patterns were replicated across the sector, university leaders’ earnings would have risen by more than 5 per cent last year. Vice-chancellors would have pocketed an extra A$43,000 (£23,000) on average, bringing their annual compensation to some A$1.03 million.

Such windfalls contrast with the pay increases doled out to staff, who typically attracted lifts of less than 2 per cent or A$2,000.

However, 2019 may represent a high-water mark for Australian vice-chancellors. At least 28 of the 41 university leaders have accepted salary reductions to help offset multibillion-dollar revenue losses caused by the pandemic, with the majority relinquishing 20 per cent of their earnings – usually for between six and 12 months.

Most of the highest-paid Australian vice-chancellors are at large universities on the eastern seaboard, where revenue has been amplified by burgeoning income from international students. Their corporate-style pay package increases, which averaged some 18 per cent over the past three years, have reflected this bonanza.

Covid-19 now threatens this rich income stream, with universities forecasting a collective revenue downturn of well over A$4 billion this year, mainly because of plummeting international enrolments.

Nevertheless, two of the most highly paid vice-chancellors will not be curtailing their salaries. The Australian Catholic University, whose boss, Greg Craven, earned about A$1.36 million last year, said it was not planning to “review salaries of any staff including members of the senior executive”.

The University of Sydney, where international revenue has grown particularly strongly, said its executive had agreed to “suspend the annual review of their salaries in July”, with their remuneration “held at current levels”. A spokeswoman said pay cuts to the leadership team could have wrongly signalled that the university was contemplating “hard measures that impact on staff numbers, salary or entitlements”.

University of Sydney sociologist Salvatore Babones said the executives should either voluntarily reduce their salaries or submit to performance reviews. “If they were sensitive to public relations, they would put up their hands for pay cuts,” he argued.

“If they wanted to really take the heat, they should go through a performance review and get genuine feedback on how well they have steered the university through this crisis. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which, in this crisis, university executives should be expecting that an annual review will result in a reward.”

University of Sydney vice-chancellor Michael Spence, whose earnings exceeded A$1.5 million in 2018, will sacrifice more than half that sum when he becomes UCL leader next year. Dr Babones said Sydney’s outgoing head was moving to “a university system that benchmarks salaries to realistic external criteria”.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

If he’s been earning 1.5 million buckaroonees for 12 years I’m sure he’ll have enough tucked away. I’m surprised he actually lasted 12 years in blandsville

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