Senior administrative staff salary details kept secret

Universities claim releasing information would harm commercial interests or breach staff privacy

January 8, 2015

Source: Alamy

Hide and seek: King’s was ordered to disclose job titles and salary bands of high-earning admin staff on its principal’s leadership team

Many universities are refusing to publish salary details of their senior administrative staff, despite official guidance that advises greater pay transparency.

Of the 37 institutions that responded to a Times Higher Education request for information about top-earning non-academic staff, 20 declined to give details of how much senior administrators were paid.

That refusal comes just months after a landmark legal case, in which King’s College London succeeded in keeping the salaries of highly paid professors under wraps but was ordered by a judge to disclose the job titles and salary bands of all administrative staff on its principal’s leadership team who earned more than £100,000 a year.

Judge Anisa Dhanji ruled that there was a legitimate public interest in knowing, for example, if a senior administrator had been paid £50,000 more than a department dean, as “what does that indicate about the college’s priorities?”

Senior staff in an organisation that receives large amounts of public funds should expect greater public accountability, she added.

However, King’s – which argued that these salary details are commercially sensitive – is to appeal the decision, while other universities also claim that such information is confidential.

In response to THE’s request made under the Freedom of Information Act, a majority of institutions said that releasing the information would be a risk to their commercial interests or that it would be a breach of staff privacy – arguments dismissed by Ms Dhanji.

Four institutions – City University London, Keele University, Queen Mary University of London and Lancaster University – even refused to say how many of their administrative staff earned more than £100,000 a year.

City University London said it believed that its “academic, strategic and commercial interests outweigh the public interest in disclosure”.

Keele said that it did not have to disclose the information as only 30 per cent of its funds came from public sources – unlike local authorities, which are wholly public-funded.

Adalbert Lubicz, who initially requested the salary information from King’s, said it was clear that universities were “completely ignoring the now well-established principle that the most highly paid staff cannot hide their salaries behind data protection laws”.

“These people’s salaries are after all paid from the public purse and they are in the top 3 per cent of earners in the country,” he said.

Show and tell

Of the 14 universities that disclosed the number of higher earners, the University of Cambridge had the most non-academic staff earning more than £100,000 a year (32), but did not provide further details.

Imperial College London said that 28 of its non-academic staff earned at least £100,000 a year, compared with 291 academics, but it declined to list any of their salary bands. At the University of Leeds, 16 professional staff earned more than £100,000.

The University of Birmingham had nine professional service staff on £100,000 or more a year, as did the University of Aberdeen. At the University of Nottingham the figure was seven, the University of Reading six and the University of Bath just two.

Of those who did provide full details, the University of Surrey had the highest number of non-academic staff on £100,000 or more a year (17), including the chief financial officer (£160,000 to £170,000) and the vice-president of marketing and communications (£120,000 to £130,000). Only 26 academics earned more than £100,000, Surrey said.

Both the University of Sheffield and the University of Bristol had 12 professional service staff on salaries of more than £100,000 a year, of whom the highest earner on the leadership team was, in both cases, the registrar, on £170,000 to £179,000.

Oxford Brookes University had 10 administrative staff on more than £100,000, with the registrar also the highest paid on £130,000 to £140,000 a year.

The London School of Economics had nine professional service staff earning more than £100,000, of whom the chief financial officer earned the most (£180,000 to £189,000).

The University of Essex had three non-academic staff on more than £100,000 a year, with the registrar earning £150,000 to £160,000, while Goldsmiths, University of London had three, of whom the registrar earned £140,000 to £150,000.

Universities are not obliged to disclose the salary details of senior academic staff after King’s successfully overturned that part of an original decision by the Information Commissioner’s Office on the disclosure of high salaries at universities. Ms Dhanji accepted the King’s argument that there was a “real and significant risk of prejudice to its commercial interests” if the information was published.

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