English regulator’s promise on v-c pay ‘doesn’t go far enough’

Office for Students vows to demand justification for university leaders’ salary levels

June 19, 2018
Magnifying glass

England’s new higher education regulator has pledged to publish full details of the pay of each vice-chancellor in the sector, but the move is “unlikely to reveal any information that wasn’t already publicly available”, according to the University and College Union.

The Office for Students announced on 19 June that it would publish details of total remuneration packages paid to vice-chancellors “in an annual report to secure greater transparency”.

The move, detailed in an accounts direction to institutions from the regulator, will include information on “the relationship between the head of providers’ remuneration and that for all other employees in their institution, expressed as a pay multiple”, the OfS said.

Nicola Dandridge, OfS chief executive, said that “high levels of pay that are out of kilter with pay levels elsewhere and which cannot be justified are unacceptable”.

Institutions will “have to provide detailed justification” of their leaders’ remuneration packages, she added. This justification “must include an explanation of what value the head of institution has delivered, and the process by which their performance was judged”, the OfS said.

Institutions must also disclose the number of staff with a basic salary of more than £100,000 a year, as is customary in accounts at present, broken down into bands of £5,000.

Draft guidance set out by the Committee of University Chairs earlier this month said that institutions should publish the pay multiple of the vice-chancellor compared with the median earnings of the whole workforce and be ready to justify their decisions if their leaders’ salary is in the highest sector quintile compared with average staff remuneration.

Sally Hunt, the UCU’s general secretary, said that the new rules would have a limited impact.

“While a focus from the Office for Students on vice-chancellor pay is welcome, much of the information being called for is already available in universities’ accounts or through Freedom of Information requests,” she said. 

“Asking institutions to justify high pay for senior staff is all very well, but they need to do much better than complaining about how they’re being paid less than bankers or footballers. This new guidance seems to allow universities to simply craft excuses for vice-chancellors to hide behind.

“If university leaders are to be held genuinely accountable to students, staff and taxpayers alike, we need proper student and staff representation on the committees that set their pay.”

The University of Bath announced last month that staff and students will be represented on the committee that sets its vice-chancellor’s pay after a review of governance prompted by outrage over Dame Glynis Breakwell’s pay and perks.

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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