The total pay of university and college heads topped £20 million last year. This figure is more than the University of York received to teach its 8,800 home and European Union students and more than the University of Warwick got from the funding council for research. It represents a rise of more than £750,000 shared between 164 people - equivalent to £4,600 each.
Most vice-chancellors now get paid more than £125,000. Some 29 earn more than £150,000, and two get more than £200,000 a year.
There appears to be little rhyme or reason for the pecking order.
For example, Sir Richard Sykes received £218,000 as rector of Imperial College London, perhaps reflecting his status as former chief executive of what is now GlaxoSmithKline.
Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, former president and provost of University College London, was paid £141,000 for doing a similar job. Moreover, nine UCL staff earned more than Sir Chris, and one person was paid more than £200,000.
Aston University vice-chancellor Michael Wright was paid £194,000 to lead an institution of 7,000 students. At neighbouring Birmingham University, Mike Sterling earned £192,000 leading an institution of ,000 students.
Professor Wright told The THES that the £194,000 figure was misleading. He said: "It's a fake figure. I get an element of performance-related pay, and I got two years' worth in one year. There were two components of £15,000 for 2001-02 and £12,000 for 2000-01 paid in 2001-02. Next year will see my salary going down with a bump."
But his overall standing and 13.5 per cent rise still worried his staff.
Henry Miller, a lecturer at Aston and vice-president of the local branch of the Association of University Teachers, said: "Both of these figures are high and could be seen as excessive in two ways: in relation to the size and status of the institution and in terms of the salary and remuneration of other staff within the institution.
"While the vice-chancellor is generally seen as doing a good job, there's a real issue of staff morale, with staff feeling that they are stuck in terms of remuneration but senior staff are being awarded salaries that widen the gap, and it's quite galling."
Similarly, Birmingham staff were aghast at how Professor Sterling had increased his income from £154,000 as vice-chancellor of Brunel University to £192,000 as vice-chancellor of Birmingham.
William Edmondson, a lecturer in computing science at Birmingham and president of Birmingham AUT, said: "The vice-chancellor's salary is outrageous and completely out of line with his contribution to the university.
"He has closed an internationally famous department with excellent teaching and huge student demand, and he has threatened redundancies across the campus with an unlawfully established redundancy committee.
"He is being rewarded for depressing morale and bullying staff - it is quite disgusting."
A spokeswoman for the university said: "Professor Sterling leads a £9 million operation, serving 26,500 students and 6,000 staff in one of the country's premier research-led universities that has set itself on a considerable trajectory of development. His remuneration will therefore need to match his responsibilities to the university and the community, not least to the wider economic health of the region at large."
Evidence of previous pay-offs is still visible in the salaries. Gilbert Smith, who was vice-chancellor of Northumbria University, received a £110,000 bonus for completion of a five-year fixed-term contract. The payment came to light this year after the accounts for the previous year were "restated".
Peter Toyne, who was subject to a staff vote of no confidence before he left Liverpool John Moores University in August 2000, got an extra £55,000 last year and £100,000 towards enhancing his pension benefits.
He got the same package the previous year.
Sir William Stubbs, who increased his pay by 25 per cent before quitting two years ago, got £37,500 from a senior staff loyalty scheme on top of his £14,000 salary for working for the London Institute for a month in August 2001.
WHAT THOSE ON LOWER RUNGS SAY
George Constantinides , , is a lecturer in electrical engineering at Imperial College London. He earns £33,000 a year including London weighting, while the college's rector Sir Richard Sykes earns £218,000.
"Since the rector doesn't earn most of his income from the college, I don't see necessarily why it is justified. The only way to justify such a salary is that we want the top people from industry to come here.
But a university is not a profit-making institution. The top people from industry necessarily have a profit motive. I don't have anything against profit, but it's not teaching and research, which are what universities are about."
Richard Belfield , , is a research assistant at the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics.
He earns £22,000 a year including London weighting, while centre director Anthony Giddens earns £176,000.
"As the administration has become more centralised, it has taken more of the resources of the university. We have a professional group through which funds are (now) channelled. It's not good for the university system to take funds away from teaching and research and put them towards administration. It's not the most efficient or equitable way of doing things."
Rachel Oelman , 30, is a student recruitment assistant at the LSE. She earns £18,500 a year including London weighting.
"There's a discrepancy between the director's 10 per cent pay rise and the 3.5 per cent we got. It's very much about seeing the issues as a whole and ensuring that everybody is valued by the school."