UK university remuneration committees face their first big test after the furore over vice-chancellors’ pay as a sudden slew of top-level vacancies puts pressure on boards to rein in spiralling salaries.
Six institutional heads have announced in recent weeks that they are stepping down, including Iain Martin from Anglia Ruskin University, the University of Bradford’s Brian Cantor, Patrick Loughrey, warden of Goldsmiths, University of London, and Liverpool John Moores University’s Nigel Weatherill.
Also leaving is Sir Christopher Snowden, vice-chancellor of the University of Southampton, who will retire in spring 2019 and was one of the UK’s highest-paid higher education leaders, on a package worth £433,000 in 2016-17.
All six institutions will come under pressure to follow the approach adopted by the University of Bath when it appointed Ian White as its new vice-chancellor last month, following the retirement of Dame Glynis Breakwell. Professor White, currently a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Cambridge, will start next April on a salary that is strikingly close to the UK sector average according to Times Higher Education’s latest survey, with basic pay of £266,000 plus £37,000 in lieu of pension contributions.
In contrast, Dame Glynis’ £468,000 pay package made her the UK’s highest-paid vice-chancellor, and she was forced to step down after becoming the focus of widespread criticism of levels of executive pay in higher education.
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that “the most likely outcome of the recent furore was always a recalibration of salaries when new appointments occur, rather than big cuts for those already in post”.
“We have already seen that at Bath and I suspect we will see it at other places too,” he said. “In particular, we will see more clustering around the average remuneration for vice-chancellors.”
Andy Westwood, vice-dean for social responsibility at the University of Manchester, agreed that “for some universities, where the departing vice-chancellor has been there for a while and been subject to pay hikes, it will make sense to lower the pay offering and show that the institution is listening to critics”.
“However, there will be others – particularly ones where the vice-chancellor is leaving because of performance-related issues – where the board will say ‘we know that there is a furore over vice-chancellor pay, but we need someone to work miracles, and we’re prepared to take that flak if they can do that’,” Professor Westwood said.
Professor Westwood added: “It is ironic that it is the tightening pressures around student recruitment and other strategic issues [driven by government policy] that may lead some universities to gamble on continuing high pay levels despite the clamour to reduce them.”