Michael Spence: chance to lead UCL post-Brexit ‘worth pay cut’

Sydney v-c says upcoming move to London ‘made more interesting’ by uncertainty around city’s global position 

February 26, 2020
Michael Spence

The incoming leader of UCL has claimed that the challenge of asserting the institution and London as global hubs in the wake of Brexit was an interesting enough proposition for him to take a pay cut of more than 50 per cent.

Michael Spence, vice-chancellor of the University of Sydney, will replace Michael Arthur as UCL president in January 2021.

He faces the task of improving morale at an institution where staff have complained about an alleged top-down management style and have raised concerns that the UCL East campus project could jeopardise the institution’s financial stability. Dr Spence’s arrival will also coincide with the finalisation of the UK’s divorce from the European Union, as the Brexit transition period comes to an end.

In an interview with Times Higher Education, Dr Spence said that there was “a conversation to have about the strategic direction of the institution” but “that’s inevitable because England is changing”.

“Brexit and the new position of London: these will throw up really new challenges for London’s first university,” he said.

Far from being put off from taking the UCL post amid these changes, Dr Spence said that they “make it more interesting”, adding that “the uncertainties presented by Brexit are an enormous opportunity for the leadership role of universities”.

“It’s a great job and it’s a terrific institution and London is a marvellous city and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.

“For me the spirit of the thing is London is at a crucial point at which it really needs to assert its role as a global hub. And London’s first university really needs to be taking a leadership role in building connections for the city right across the world and [being] actively engaged in both the London and the national conversation.

“And so, I think the opportunity to take this role in this university at this time is something very special indeed and an opportunity for which I am just incredibly grateful…That’s not just rhetorical; that’s a job that is interesting enough for me to take a pay cut.”

Dr Spence was the second highest-paid vice-chancellor in Australia in 2018, earning A$1.53 million (£779,000). A UCL spokesman said that his new salary will be £365,000, a 53 per cent cut, potentially undermining claims that UK university leaders should be paid higher salaries because they are being appointed from a global market for talent.

“This salary has been benchmarked and set against other world-leading UK universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial,” the spokesman said. Dr Spence has taken a pay cut so his salary is in line with these peer universities.”

Professor Arthur’s basic salary in 2018-19 was £375,755, with benefits and pension contributions taking his total earnings to £405,034.

Dr Spence, who headed the University of Oxford’s Social Sciences Division before beginning his 12-year stint leading Sydney, said that his experience running an institution in the Western Pacific would offer a new perspective for UCL’s leadership.

“The dynamic rise of China, the growth of Indonesia, the repositioning of India; the world looks sort of different from Australia,” he said. “Part of what I would like to take with me to UCL is that perspective from the Western Pacific as we think about what it means for UCL really to reach out around the globe…So much is happening in Asia academically at the moment that it’s really important that UCL, which already has strong ties with Asia, really grows those [ties].”

Dr Spence’s appointment was announced on the same day that Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, was appointed director of SOAS University of London.

Rajani Naidoo, professor of higher education management at the University of Bath, said that having “two v-cs coming from abroad could add greater impetus to our commitment to maintain ties to continental Europe in the context of Brexit, while forging partnerships with Africa, Latin America and Asia”. 

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Michael Spence: opportunity to lead UCL post-Brexit ‘worth salary cut’

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Reader's comments (2)

"A UCL spokesman said that his new salary will be £365,000, a 53 per cent cut...". Pay cut. Hahahaha! I would take a £365k / year job (£30k / month) any time!
A pay cut to £365k p.a. (plus perks and a generous expense account). The poor sod will be starving soon. My heart bleeds! [These people really do live on a different planet and are not even aware or ashamed of it...]

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