Sparks fly over v-cs' pay deals

July 9, 1999

The salaries of South Africa's 21 university vice-chancellors, made public for the first time this week by the South African Universities Vice-Chancellors' Association, are expected to provoke outrage from other staff and the public.

Most vice-chancellors earn more than cabinet ministers, and even the worst paid earn substantially more than a deputy director-general in the national education department. In parliament, only president Thabo Mbeki earns more than some vice-chancellors.

Nine vice-chancellors earned gross incomes of between R632,000 (Pounds 67,000) and R842,000 last year, according to Sauvca.

In terms of basic salaries, the nine highest paid earned between R420,000 and R560,000 a year. At the lowest end of the scale are two vice-chancellors with gross packages of R355,000 and R473,000, and salaries of R263,000 and R315,000, respectively.

These packages would be considered reasonable for top executives in the private sector, but they are very high for the public sector.

A cabinet minister's gross package, for instance, is R498,000 a year, while an ordinary member of parliament earns R252,000.

While vice-chancellors in Europe commonly match these income levels, in South Africa salaries tend to be significantly lower. A junior university lecturer would earn a salary of up to R90,000, a full professor up to R200,000.

Mike Ellis, education spokesman for the official opposition Democratic Party, said he would raise the issue when parliament reconvenes in August. "We find them shocking when compared with other public-sector salaries," he said.

Senior executive salaries are decided by university councils, which include representatives of the government, the university, local community and business.

Itumeleng Thakheli, administrator for the National Tertiary Education Staff Union, said he too was looking into vice-chancellors' remuneration. He said salaries looked high considering declining student numbers, state subsidy cuts and ongoing financial exclusions of successful students.

Four of the vice-chancellors in the top earnings bracket are from large universities (Cape Town, Natal, Pretoria and Stellenbosch), one is from the distance-learning University of South Africa, and another from the Medical University of South Africa. However, one is from the University of the North, a poorly rated institution that is under investigation for alleged financial irregularities.

The lowest earning vice-chancellors are from the small historically black universities of the north west and Transkei.

Piyushi Kotecha, Sauvca's chief executive officer, said that the association had long believed that senior university packages should be a matter of public record, but had waited for a possible directive from the country's National Commission on Higher Education.

None was forthcoming, so in January Sauvca agreed to salary disclosure and asked universities to submit the information on senior packages earned last year.

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