Boss of UK’s biggest student housing firm paid £2 million

Unite Students’ executive pay deals prompt union criticism of ‘massive rises funded by public money and student debt’

August 14, 2019

The head of the UK’s biggest student accommodation provider, Unite Students, received a £2 million pay package last year, Times Higher Education can reveal, with a union criticising “massive rises funded by public money and student debt”.

Richard Smith, chief executive of Unite, received £445,910 in salary, £15,920 in taxable benefits, £72,081 in pension benefit, £478,822 in an annual bonus and £982,975 via a “long-term incentive plan” in 2018, coming to a total of £1,995,708, according to the company’s annual report.

Joe Lister, chief financial officer, received a total package of £1.6 million.

Their pay packages the previous year had totalled £1.4 million and £1.3 million respectively.

Unite, which has contracts with some universities, says that it houses about 50,000 students in 22 cities, making it the UK’s biggest student accommodation provider by capacity.

Most domestic students are likely to rely heavily on publicly funded maintenance loans to pay their rents.

Jo Grady, the University and College Union general secretary, said: “At a time when university staff are being forced to ballot for strike action against declining pay and conditions and to defend their pensions, it is offensive in the extreme that senior execs are creaming the system in this way and helping themselves to massive rises funded by public money and student debt.

“Student rent hikes have left increasing numbers of students struggling to keep up with their bills, yet the accommodation providers continue to line their own pockets. Survey after survey shows students want to see investment in staff and support services, not expensive buildings.”

A Unite spokesman said that “like any public company”, executive remuneration is “determined by an independent committee and approved by shareholders”.

The committee measures pay “against comparable companies” and links it “to the generation of long-term value for all stakeholders, namely shareholders, students and university partners”, he added.

In 2018, “the remuneration committee noted the excellent performance delivered during the year against key performance metrics, including record customer satisfaction and HE sector trust scores and continued outperformance on total shareholder return, and calculated rewards accordingly,” he continued.

Meanwhile, Unite’s proposed £1.4 billion takeover of another student accommodation provider, Liberty Living, is being investigated by the Competition and Markets Authority, a development that the company expected.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: UK student housing boss pockets £2 million

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Reader's comments (1)

Making hay while the sun shines comes to mind. Once the market contraction and subsequent fall in student numbers starts to bite these housing companies will see a massive drop in profits, how many of these highly expensive units are rented to 'poor' UK students anyway?

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