Australian vice-chancellors join the millionaires’ club

Michael Spence maintains status as Australia’s highest-paid university leader despite cut in salary

June 4, 2018
Australian dollars

Seven-figure pay packets may soon be the norm for Australia’s vice-chancellors, with at least 11 university bosses now in the million-dollar club – already up from nine last year.

New South Wales vice-chancellors pocketed an average of A$964,000 (£548,000) in 2017, newly published annual reports reveal. This comes after it emerged that university heads in Victoria were getting an average of A$890,000, or A$968,000 if Melbourne’s niche University of Divinity is excluded. Queensland vice-chancellors took home an average of A$941,000, while those in Western Australia collected A$685,000.

In New South Wales, the University of Sydney’s Michael Spence looks set to remain the country’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, claiming a remuneration package worth A$1.44 million, despite taking a 3 per cent pay cut. Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University, received a 5 per cent pay rise that lifted his emoluments to A$1.31 million. This puts him on a par with Glyn Davis at the University of Melbourne.

Such rewards are a far cry from the situation in the UK, where the average vice-chancellor receives about £268,000. But Australian leaders’ pay packets typically include significant benefits such as cars and residences, which inflate the baseline figures.

Sydney said that fringe benefits accounted for A$357,000 of Dr Spence’s package, despite a decline in their cost. ACU said that Professor Craven’s remuneration included 17 per cent superannuation as well as residences in Sydney and Melbourne, where its biggest campuses are located.

Nevertheless, the monumental salaries sit uneasily beside Dr Spence’s high-profile support for disadvantaged students and Professor Craven’s avowed commitment to social justice and equity.

The vice-chancellor of the University of Technology Sydney, Attila Brungs, has backed up a similar commitment with his own money. While his reported remuneration rose by 5 per cent to A$1.03 million, the UTS annual report notes that this figure includes “amounts dedicated to the provision of student scholarships”.

A spokesman for the university said that Professor Brungs had arranged for one-quarter of his performance bonuses – on top of regular salary deductions – to be expended on scholarships in lieu of cash. Administrative rules required these donations to be included in his reported earnings.

UTS said that Professor Brungs’ package excluded accommodation, as the previous vice-chancellor’s residence had been sold to fund a childcare centre. Macquarie University also stopped providing an official residence more than 10 years ago.

Instead, Macquarie loaned vice-chancellor Bruce Dowton A$875,000 to buy a home after he joined the university in 2012. Professor Dowton last year paid the university interest of A$23,000 against the loan, and received A$48,000 in “fair value” fees for the residence’s use for university functions.

Professor Dowton was awarded a new contract last year after signing on for a second five-year term. His remuneration increased by 14 per cent, a rise the university said was “in line with international standards”, to about A$985,000.

UTS said that Professor Brungs’ salary was commensurate with that paid in public enterprises and was less than that paid in similar-sized companies. ACU said that Professor Craven’s package reflected his duties as the head of a “large, complex and multi-state university”. Sydney said that Dr Spence led an institution with 67,000 students, more than 6,000 staff, 70 teaching and research centres and a A$2.24 billion operating budget.

Other Australian universities will release their salary data later this year.

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