The University of Bath’s vice-chancellor is rightly paid more than the leaders of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in recognition of her contribution to the institution's recent success, its chair of council has insisted.
In a robust defence of Dame Glynis Breakwell’s £468,000 pay and benefits package in 2016-17, Thomas Sheppard told Times Higher Education that the university was justified in paying its under-fire vice-chancellor more than any other university leader in the country – including the heads of Oxford and Cambridge, which took the two spots in the latest THE World University Rankings.
His comments follow the publication of a critical report by the Higher Education Funding Council for England on 20 November into Bath’s governance surrounding the setting of pay for senior leaders.
The report – which has led Bath’s local University and College Union branch to demand Dame Glynis’ resignation – criticised examples of “poor governance” and the “flawed” handling of a university court vote that blocked a motion censuring the university's arrangements for setting executive pay.
Mr Sheppard – whom Hefce has recommended should step down as chair of Bath’s remuneration committee owing to a “perceived conflict of interest” as the vice-chancellor’s “line manager” – suggested Dame Glynis merited higher pay than those in charge at Oxbridge in recognition of her success since 2012. The University of Cambridge's new vice-chancellor Stephen Toope is on a salary of £365,000, while the University of Oxford's Louise Richardson is paid £350,000 annually.
“Oxford and Cambridge have been greater universities for centuries and it’s a remarkable honour to steer these very successful world-class universities,” said Mr Sheppard, who is a commercial lawyer. “However, Bath is a world-class university and became one because of Glynis’ leadership and the people she has put around her.”
Asked if he regretted making Dame Glynis the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor in 2015-16 on an overall pay package of £451,000, Mr Sheppard said it was “not our intention to make Glynis the highest-paid – she was [meant to be] amongst the highest-paid because we wanted to retain her”.
“We knew we had a very important couple of years where we needed to get things right and we did not want to lose her in this period,” he added.
While Mr Sheppard welcomed the Hefce report’s publication as it had been “hanging over us for some time”, he rejected calls from the local union and Labour peer Lord Adonis for Dame Glynis to step down.
“This report is nothing to do with Dame Glynis – she is the leader of a university which determines her pay and she cannot help it if she is well-paid for doing her job well,” he said. “It is not appropriate that she should consider her job – she has done a tremendous job over the past five years.”
Asked if he felt attacks on Bath by Lord Adonis, who suggested in a tweet on 20 November that the university should be stripped of about £50 million in annual public funding unless Dame Glynis resigned – had gone too far, Mr Sheppard disagreed. “We need to have a counterpoint view and I welcome what he does,” he said.
HEFCE report on Bath Uni says its handling of internal complaints about VC’s £468k pay ‘flawed.’ VC shd now resign, & the Chair of Council. If this does not happen, I will seek parliamentary debate asking Govt to withdraw public funding from the Uni— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) November 20, 2017
Lord Adonis’s intervention on this issue highlighted a wider debate in higher education, in which the “marketisation of the sector had created a very successful number of universities which had blossomed” with senior pay packages reflecting this success story, said Mr Sheppard.
“The moment has come to ask whether this is the direction of travel on which we want to continue,” Mr Sheppard said.