Australian v-cs have the best packages

May 26, 2006

University heads in the UK come a poor third to those Down Under, says Geoff Maslen.

British vice-chancellors are worse off in terms of their salaries, taxes and quality of life than their counterparts in Australia and the US, a comparative survey suggests.

The study found that the purchasing power in real terms of remuneration available to the Australians is significantly higher than that for British and US university heads.

According to Lisa Soh, a commerce student at the University of Western Australia who conducted the study, tax considerations are also more favourable in Australia, as is the quality of life.

"Vice-chancellors in the UK, on the other hand, appear to be the losers in the international comparison, with lower real remuneration and a less favourable tax situation," Ms Soh said.

"This may be an important consideration for prospective future Australian vice-chancellors currently living overseas. It may also reflect the fact that Australian vice-chancellors are of higher quality, on average, than their international counterparts."

But she stressed that the comparisons were made on the basis of remuneration, with no controls for institutional size differences.

Ms Soh calculated the remuneration variations using a relative price index called the "Big Mac". This represents a standard basket of goods and services in more than 100 countries. She said that while the index was not a perfect measure of purchasing power parity, it was accurate in tracking exchange rates in the long term.

The comparison was based on vice-chancellor remuneration reported by The Times Higher for the UK and The Chronicle of Higher Education in the US, and Ms Soh's own analysis of university annual reports in Australia.

She said that Australian vice-chancellors had a real-terms remuneration 43 per cent higher than those in the US. British vice-chancellors, have 31 per cent less purchasing power relative to the Americans.

"This indicates that UK vice-chancellors are the lowest paid," she said.

"Taking taxes and other social contributions into account, vice-chancellor remuneration in Australia is the most attractive."

To assess standard of living, Ms Soh used the Quality of Life Survey produced by Mercer Human Resource Consulting.

This ranks countries on political, social, economic and environmental factors, as well as personal safety and health, education, transport and other public services. Ms Soh said that while the index was imperfect, it suggested that Australia was the best place to live overall with the highest quality of life measures relative to Britain and the US.

An investigation into university heads' remuneration in Australia by The Times Higher found that it is close to having its first A$1 million-a-year vice-chancellor. John Hay, the University of Queensland vice-chancellor, is on a package worth more than A$900,000 (£365,000) after a decade at the university. His base salary is A$450,000 a year, but the total cost is more than double that when allowances, bonuses, superannuation and benefits such as a house and car are included.

The survey revealed that vice-chancellors' average income plus benefits is nearing A$500,000 a year, a rise of 60 per cent since 2001 in many cases.

In contrast, academic salaries have increased by 23 per cent - a professor earns A$120,000, a senior lecturer less than A$80,000 and a research assistant about A$40,000.

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