In the era of the £100,000-a-year head teacher and the £250,000-a-year civil servant, vice-chancellors are not overpaid. But as the Higher Education Funding Council for England has said in response to some spectacular rises uncovered by The THES , vice-chancellors' pay is public money that must be spent responsibly.
Hefce's investigations show that some institutions may have been paying performance bonuses based on poor criteria. Others have made big one-off payments to leaders about to retire. And many have presented accounts that are unclear about how much vice-chancellors are paid and why.
Its conclusions are mild, but Hefce's promise to return to the issue warns that it is unhappy with current behaviour and with the raised eyebrows in Whitehall that some pay rises have caused. But there are other problems. In an industry where poor job security is common, big payoffs allow senior managers to avoid worries that they insist others cannot. And despite Hefce's approval of the practice, the sight of a few senior figures receiving bonuses for performance attributable to the institution at large is at odds with the sector's values.
Institutions must be free to determine how much they pay their leaders so they get the best people for demanding jobs. But in a sector where low pay for high achievers is common, they must also make sure that rewards are openly determined and properly structured.