Fellows share land sale bonus

May 26, 2006

Some are outraged by New College's decision to share a £55 million windfall with top academics via an extra £10,000 in their salaries for three years. Jessica Shepherd reports.

An Oxford University college has provoked controversy by awarding £10,000 each year for three years to each of its 39 senior academics as a result of a multimillion-pound land sale.

New College has reaped £55 million from the sale of land near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire that was given to the college in 1386 by the Bishop of Winchester. The windfall will almost double the college's endowment, making it the sixth wealthiest Oxford college, with assets of £125 million.

David Palfreyman, the bursar of New College, described the cash as "putting some jam on the college scone".

But the decision to give fellows bonuses from the extra income generated from the additional capital from the sale has sparked anger and resentment among other academics.

Some senior Oxford academics believe the college is acting like a company that gives out dividends to shareholders rather than an educational charity.

Others say the bonuses reflect the "unfair" financial gulf between the amount paid to academics at rich colleges compared with that handed out at poorer ones.

However, New College is not in any way acting illegally by awarding Pounds 10,000 to its fellows with tutorial and pastoral duties, and £2,500 to junior fellows. A third of the total income from the additional capital will go to academics, a third will be used to repair the college's roof, and a third will be channelled into "academic development", which includes such things as bursaries.

Alan Ryan, the warden of the college, said: "My response to those who say that this is unfair is get your fundraisers cracking on.

"There are inequalities, and it is partly luck of the draw. After all, a professor of physics is paid more than a professor of English.

"We wanted to do something to make this place more competitive as an employer. A lot of universities would pay every person who works here another Pounds 20,000 above what we can pay them. Compare what we pay with what a professor at the London School of Economics gets, for example.

"So we gave all our fellows £2,500 a year to acknowledge the fact that a self-governing academic community makes demands on them in addition to departmental demands.

"And we gave the teaching faculty £7,500 a year on top of that Pounds 2,500 to acknowledge the tutorial and pastoral tasks that they would not be asked to perform at other sorts of institutions. We don't have to worry so much about the replacement of teaching staff, and we can be more relaxed about the roof our 14th-century buildings."

Nonetheless, New College is being heavily criticised for its so-called handouts to fellows.

One senior Oxford academic said: "The college exists for charitable purposes. It shouldn't think of itself as a company giving out a dividend."

Another said: "At the very least, this exacerbates the worrying discrepancies between colleges with academics doing identical jobs receiving widely different remuneration."

An undergraduate said: "Any sale of assets should be to better the student experience, not line dons' pockets. I am all in favour of dons being paid more, but this should be done in other ways."

Other colleges suggested that they would be unlikely to follow New College's example if they were to generate extra revenue.

James Lawrie, treasurer of Christ Church, said: "Our policy is that the money would go back into the endowment. The endowment would cover a range of things such as grants for academics to give lectures."

Clendon Daukes, bursar of St Peter's, said: "If we did have land, a decision would be taken by the governing body and almost certainly the money would go back into property or student accommodation."

The university said: "Any college that realises an asset would have a wide range of options as to what to do with the money, and would not refer to the university regarding that decision."

jessica.shepherd@thes.co.uk

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