Scottish universities criticised on pay

Action needs to be taken against Scottish universities because senior staff members are being given “worrying levels of high pay”, the National Union of Students Scotland has said.

April 15, 2013

According to its Principals’ Pay at Scottish Universities report, published today, 88 senior staff members across 18 institutions earn more than Scotland’s first minister, Alex Salmond. Only two principals have a salary below that of the first minister, while the highest-earning principal, University of Aberdeen principal Sir Ian Diamond, earned £303,000 including pension contributions.

The report also says that on average the highest university earner in Scotland collected a wage that was 16.10 times more than the bottom earner. Some institutions in Scotland give staff a salary below the living wage – a level of pay deemed necessary to meet the basic cost of living.

Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “It’s unjustifiable for university principals and other senior staff to routinely be paid such large sums.

“Universities need academic autonomy, but they should not have the freedom to pay such large salaries and to allow large gaps between those at the top end and the lowest paid.

“There are hundreds of millions of pounds of public money quite rightly going into universities over the next few years, we must make sure that this money is used on the front line, not on increasing already substantial senior salaries.”

The report also says that the average pay for principals (before pension contributions and benefits in kind) is £200,000. Additionally, six staff members earn more than a quarter of a million pounds, three of whom are at one institution, Edinburgh – which also has the highest earner, an individual with a pay packet of more than £350,000.

A University of Edinburgh spokesman said proportionately a “very small” number of employees earned more than £140,000 between 2011 and 2012. 

“Edinburgh is a world-leading institution which sustains its high academic standing through the quality and distinction of its academic staff,” he said. 

“To this extent, the university is in competition for these staff with other leading world institutions so it is necessary to offer remuneration packages which enable us to attract and retain the very best staff.”

Mr Parker said he believed that the forthcoming new governance code for Scottish universities will provide the opportunity to start addressing the imbalance in university pay.

NUS Scotland has called for a maximum pay ratio between highest and lowest earners, staff and student representation on university remuneration panels and greater transparency in setting and monitoring senior level pay.

“These need to be defined in the code to ensure that we have that vital trust in our universities and those who are leading them,” Mr Parker said.

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