Leader: Growing pay gap makes justifiable case hard to sell

February 7, 2003

White papers excepted, nothing excites such interest among readers of The THES as our annual survey of vice-chancellors' pay. In any walk of life, employees are intrigued to know what the boss earns and the various "rich lists" published each year show no sign of losing their attraction.

Envy may be a sin, but it is practically universal nonetheless.

The value of the league table, however, is not to name and shame individuals, but to show whether the system is operating fairly.

Vice-chancellors are publicly accountable and their salaries are available for all to see in universities' annual reports. But only by comparing their remuneration with others in similar institutions can their staff and students be assured that what may seem an enormous package is justified in terms of market rates.

This year's table does not suggest that vice-chancellors are overpaid. Even Laura Tyson's £316,000 at the London Business School is far from excessive in its context - others at LBS doubtless make as much when consultancy is included. She would have earned at least as much at the helm of a big US business school, let alone practising what she preaches in a major corporation. The norm of £125,000 to £130,000 does not stand comparison with senior management scales in companies with the turnover of an average university.

But one aspect of the survey gives cause for concern - the tendency for vice-chancellors, like college principals and captains of industry, to take far more substantial rises than they allow their employees. A median increase of 6 per cent was far in excess of the 3.5 per cent awarded to lecturers and researchers. Only a handful of vice-chancellors restricted themselves, even in percentage terms, to a modest settlement.

Performance bonuses and quirks of timing can make for misleading individual figures, but sector averages do not lie. Vice-chancellors are entitled to fair salaries, but they are bound to be accused of greed when the pay gap with other academics widens year by year.

» Statistics section: Vice-chancellors' pay

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