Poor pickings for the profs

March 24, 1995

Are vice chancellors overpaid? Probably not compared with those in equivalent jobs. But they are well paid and their staff are not.

This disparity causes jealousy and friction. There is also still some obfuscation going on which gives rise to suspicion. This may be because universities are juggling their vice chancellor's packages into line with the generality before declaring them in public. It has long been said that publication of salaries would reveal relative underpayment among old university leaders compared to those in new universities and large hikes in pay, if visible, would not go down well. When the stragglers publish next year they can be expected to be nestling comfortably in the (upper?) middle of the pack.

The result of publishing pay packages may, ironically, be inflationary. Finding vice chancellors is not, according to the headhunters, exactly a doddle these days. The job specification will generally require academic clout and management experience. It is no longer a job for elderly grandees rounding off a distinguished career. Publicly available comparators may strengthen the negotiating position of strong candidates still further. And the pay of the v-c may come to reflect on the status of the university.

Meanwhile, the pay of the top dogs should not distract attention from the big issue: the pay of other university staff. There are professors earning substantially more than the average, some very much more, particularly among clinical academics. Since restrictions on professorial pay were abandoned some years ago, and research selectivity has begun to bite, payments for big stars are said to have been going up sharply. But with the average for professors at just under Pounds 37,000 this must mean that most are earning around that level or a bit below.

The differential is too wide and probably getting wider. This is the scandal - and not just in academic life.

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