University finance directors earn £72,083 a year on average, more than twice the pay of a typical lecturer, according to data gathered by recruitment consultants Hays Accountancy and Finance.
Over the past year, salaries for finance directors increased by 6 per cent, compared with a 3.4 per cent rise for academic salaries.
But while finance directors often earn double the amount a professor does, their average pay is just over half that of their bosses, university vice-chancellors. In 2001-02, the 100 best-paid vice-chancellors earned an average of £143,000, according to the last Times Higher survey.
University finance directors earn about half of what they could command in similarly sized private sector companies, Hays said.
The survey revealed that the highest paid university finance director, based in London, took home £98,000 last year. The lowest paid took home just £35,000 from their job in Northern Ireland. Finance directors in Greater London and the East Midlands were generally better paid.
By contrast, national academic pay scales reveal that average lecturer pay is £32,105, while professorial pay starts at £43,500.
Gill Ball, secretary to the British Universities Finance Directors Group, said the pay rises over the past year reflected a lot of movement in posts, with several universities making appointments outside the sector.
Directors are still paid less than in the private the sector, however.
Financial controllers of firms with a turnover similar to that of universities can earn up to £160,000 a year. "If you value what this sector delivers, you will be prepared to sacrifice salary," Ms Ball said.
Roger Kline, head of the universities section at lecturers' union Natfhe, said he was not surprised at the pay levels. "But they are much higher than for most lecturers, who would have loved to have had a 6 per cent rise.
Universities need to remember that, ultimately, they are teaching organisations," he said.
Jeremy Snell, business manager at Hays, said universities were increasingly looking to supplement income with money from private streams. "The role of the financial director is different now. The old requirement of five years' experience in a higher education environment has moved from essential to desirable."