More Australian vice-chancellors earning A$1 million

Average remuneration hits A$982,900 (£543,800), Times Higher Education analysis shows

September 9, 2019
Source: Getty

Seven-figure salaries are becoming the norm for Australia’s lavishly paid vice-chancellors, a Times Higher Education analysis has revealed.

The average remuneration package for bosses of Australia’s 37 public universities reached A$982,900 (£543,800) last year, with 16 leaders pocketing more than A$1 million each – up from 13 in 2017 and 11 in 2016.

Vice-chancellors’ earnings rose an average of A$47,400 or 5.1 per cent in 2018. This compares with a mean salary increase of 2.3 per cent for the country’s workers, suggesting that the pay gap between university bosses and their staff widened last year.

Australian vice-chancellors also widened the gap over their British counterparts, who typically earned about 55 per cent as much, down from 56 per cent in 2017. English university chiefs’ remuneration averaged about £299,000 in the 2017-18 academic year, up from £294,000 in 2016-17.

Higher education consultant Justin Bokor said that the pay disparity between UK and Australian vice-chancellors negated one of the main rationales for the high antipodean remuneration. “The argument is that it’s an international marketplace and you need to pay competitive salaries,” Mr Bokor said.

“There is a fair bit of flow between the UK and Australia, so I’m not sure that argument holds.” About half of Australia’s 22 overseas-born vice-chancellors come from the UK.

But Mr Bokor said the fuss over university bosses’ pay was a “storm in a teacup”. Australian vice-chancellors typically earned several hundred thousand dollars more than the heads of large government departments, which were not subject to the same competitive pressures as universities, but considerably less than the chief executives of stock market-listed companies, which are purely commercial organisations.

The best paid Australian university boss last year was departing University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, whose valedictory package of A$1.58 million was A$285,000 higher than his 2017 earnings. A spokeswoman said the figure included a university residence which was also used for official functions.

Retiring vice-chancellors can pocket extra entitlements on their departure, with the University of Newcastle’s Caroline McMillen and Griffith University’s Ian O’Connor – who likewise finished up in 2018 – also enjoying pay rises.

Three vice-chancellors’ packages declined in 2018. However, 20 saw their remuneration rise by over A$30,000, with 11 of them pocketing more than A$50,000 extra. Five attracted pay increases of A$100,000 or more.

If the earnings of those who did not serve the full year were recalculated on a pro rata basis, 18 vice-chancellors earned more than A$1 million last year. And even allowing for the A$285,000 paid to Peter Sherlock of the University of Divinity, a niche private institution that reports its accounts in a similar fashion to the public universities, the average university chief still earned around A$965,000.

Grattan Institute analyst Andrew Norton said that the cost of vice-chancellors’ remuneration was not “massive in the grand scheme of university finances”. But universities kicked “own goals” with chief executive salaries that caused resentment and disrupted the collegial atmosphere.

“So many in the university are employed on a casual or fixed-term basis,” he said. “You’ve got this very wide discrepancy between low-paid insecure people and very highly paid people up the top.”

Australian vice-chancellors’ remuneration, 2018

University  Vice-chancellor  Earnings, 2018 (A$)

Earnings, 2017


Change (%)
University of Melbourne Glyn Davis* $1,582,500 $1,297,500 22
University of Sydney Michael Spence $1,522,500 $1,477,500*** 3
Australian Catholic University Greg Craven $1,325,000 $1,305,000 1.5
UNSW Sydney Ian Jacobs $1,292,500 $1,247,500 3.6
University of Queensland Peter Høj $1,192,500 $1,157,000 3.1
Flinders University Colin Stirling $1,175,000 $1,075,000 9.3
Deakin University Jane den Hollander $1,105,000 $1,105,000*** 0
RMIT University Martin Bean $1,105,000 $1,065,000 3.8
Monash University Margaret Gardner $1,105,000 $995,000 11.1
University of South Australia David Lloyd $1,095,000 $1,035,000 5.8
University of Western Australia Dawn Freshwater $1,095,000 $1,015,000 7.9
Griffith University Ian O’Connor* $1,067,500 $1,022,500 4.4
James Cook University Sandra Harding $1,057,500 $982,500 7.6
University of Technology Sydney Attila Brungs $1,055,000 $1,035,000 1.9
University of Adelaide Peter Rathjen $1,052,500 $722,500 NDC
University of Newcastle Caroline McMillen* $1,039,000** $875,000 18.7
University of Tasmania Rufus Black $1,034,200** $982,500 NDC
Macquarie University Bruce Dowton $1,015,000 $985,000 3
Swinburne University of Technology Linda Kristjansen $975,000 $955,000 2.1
La Trobe University John Dewar $975,000 $935,000*** 4.3
Curtin University Deborah Terry $975,000 $905,000 7.7
University of Wollongong Paul Wellings $935,000 $905,000 3.3
Murdoch University Eeva Leinonen $935,000 $755,000 23.8
Western Sydney University Barney Glover $904,181 $904,181 0
Queensland University of Technology Margaret Sheil $898,400** $1,265,000 NDC
Edith Cowan University Stephen Chapman $825,000 $845,000 -2.4
Southern Cross University Adam Shoemaker $817,500 $757,500 7.9
University of Canberra Deep Saini $805,000 $805,000 0
University of the Sunshine Coast Greg Hill $785,000 $745,000 5.4
Charles Sturt University Andy Vann $768,781 $757,791 1.5
Federation University Australia Helen Bartlett $755,000 $495,000 NDC
University of New England Annabelle Duncan $735,000 $735,000 0
Victoria University Peter Dawkins $715,000 $775,000 -7.7
Central Queensland University Scott Bowman* $697,500 $832,500 -16.2
Australian National University Brian Schmidt $675,100**** $662,500 1.9
University of Southern Queensland Geraldine Mackenzie $652,500 $577,500 13
Charles Darwin University Simon Maddocks $622,500 $622,500 0
University of Divinity Peter Sherlock $285,000 $265,000 7.5

Source: Universities’ 2018 annual reports. Note: In most cases, stated figure is at mid-point of A$10,000 or A$15,000 remuneration range quoted in annual report. NDC = not directly comparable.
* vice-chancellor resigned during 2018.
** vice-chancellor not in office full year; 2018 remuneration estimated on a pro rata basis.
*** 2017 figure revised since THE’s analysis last year due to methodological changes in calculating remuneration.
**** estimated figure. THE understands this vice-chancellor’s 2018 remuneration rose roughly in line with consumer price index.

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Reader's comments (3)

Excessive pay at the top - and then we wonder why ordinary mortals on 5-figure (UK£) salaries resist environmental initiatives such as tolls on roads, fuel taxes, airline surcharges (funny how most environmental measures are taxes not incentives). The VC on 1,000,000 pays the same road tolls as the guy on 50,000. And in case you ask, what difference does it make if the millionaire gets richer, to me - ask what these millionaires do with their extra money. Invest it, e.g. in housing, thereby boosting house prices, so FTBs have a harder time, and existing home owners have a harder time moving up the ladder. Oh, well, most universities are well above sea level anyway, esp the VCs office.
“You’ve got this very wide discrepancy between low-paid insecure people and very highly paid people up the top.” Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny again. Just shoot me.
Not long before his dismissal in 2014, the then CEO of Barclays Anthony Jenkins spoke on BBC Radio about the threat of a “death spiral” afflicting his Bank. He was referring to a claimed mass exodus of talent if the culture of high bonuses was tampered with. In the event, leaving things as they were didn’t save Jenkins, nor Barclays. Many of its ‘star’ performers simply trousered their bonuses and resigned the next day. What makes this familiar, bogus protestation even more ironic in the case of HE is that for many years academia has led the charge against bloated executive pay. Academic research told us that there is a relatively modest ceiling to pay beyond which its effect on performance is unproven. Even before the 2008 financial crash, academic research in the US was highlighting a big drop in the public’s trust in Banks. According to the research this was not due to the perceived incompetence of bankers but to the massively widening gulf between average pay and the pay of senior bank executives. In the U.K., there are other parallels between an unfolding story in HE and the disastrous path that financial services followed up to and beyond the crash. Public and political anger over vice-chancellor remuneration is just one point of pain. We’ve had the exposure of dubious use of non-disclosure agreements by universities, controversy over the policy of unconditional offers, and revelations of lax governance coupled with excessive borrowing. For housing bubble in the case of banks read overseas student bubble for universities. The regulatory ravens are circling and, just as the corporate world is having to do, Universities will also have to justify their existence and prove that social interest comes before self interest.