Three in four Australian v-cs take pay cuts

Many bosses lead from the front, ceding 20-plus per cent of their pay to help plug pandemic shortfalls

May 14, 2020
Men wait to be judged on their mullet hairstyles at Mulletfest 2018 in the town of Kurri Kurri, 150 kms north of Sydney, Australia
Source: Getty
Make mine a mullet: three-quarters of Australian leaders are accepting pay cuts during the pandemic-induced downturn

Some three-quarters of Australia’s university leaders are relinquishing pay to help offset a pandemic-induced revenue downturn of more than A$4 billion (£2.1 billion) across the sector.

At least 28 of Australia’s 41 vice-chancellors have accepted salary reductions, a Times Higher Education analysis has found. Seventeen have given up 20 per cent of their earnings, with four ceding 25 per cent or more. Another four have sacrificed 10 per cent, two have made one-off donations and another is considering how much to forgo.

High-ranked executives of at least 23 of the universities have followed suit, mostly giving up the same proportion of pay as their vice-chancellors. Western Sydney University said that 50 senior staff had contributed up to 20 per cent of their earnings.

Bond University said that 37 senior executives had each relinquished 20 per cent of their pay. Swinburne University said that its entire executive group had agreed to a 30 per cent cut.

Leaders’ salary offcuts at 14 institutions have been channelled into hardship funds for students experiencing financial difficulty. Charles Darwin University said that its vice-chancellor Simon Maddocks, who had reduced his salary by 20 per cent for the rest of the year, would contribute another 5 per cent to the Student Emergency Appeal for the next three months.

Deakin University said that vice-chancellor Iain Martin had relinquished 25 per cent of his pay this year while donating another A$4,000 a month to the Student Emergency Assistance Fund.

Such gestures reveal another side of Australian vice-chancellors, whose corporate-scale remuneration attracts widespread criticism. They garner almost twice as much as their UK counterparts and out-earn most US university presidents.

They pocket considerably more than their cousins in New Zealand, where public sector pay packets are more tightly constrained – and the vice-chancellors of the universities of Canterbury and Otago and Victoria University of Wellington are donating 20 per cent of their earnings to student or staff hardship packages.

Some Australian vice-chancellors have previously engineered pay cuts and some routinely fund scholarships. One is University of Technology Sydney (UTS) boss Attila Brungs, who is this year donating about 25 per cent of his pay to student and staff hardship funds, a spokesman said.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) has focused attention on executive pay cuts, with union leaders lending their support to temporary reductions of up to 15 per cent of staff salaries – but only at universities where vice-chancellors and executives give up more.

Professor Brungs has relinquished pay even though he does not plan to pursue the NTEU deal. “UTS believes the financial situation at our university can be managed without across-the-board cuts to anyone’s remuneration,” the spokesman said.

Leaders at Sydney and Murdoch universities have cancelled this year’s pay increases, while the University of Southern Queensland’s vice-chancellor is donating hers to a student hardship fund, but none of the three institutions plans executive salary cuts. “We have looked for savings in other areas such as infrastructure spending and a hiring freeze,” a Sydney spokeswoman said.

Macquarie and the Australian Catholic University (ACU) are not changing executive pay arrangements. ACU’s chief operating officer Stephen Weller said that its losses had been limited by its “modest proportion” of overseas students.

He said that the institution was “focused on maintaining our existing work conditions wherever possible. We are not planning to stand down our workforce nor to review salaries of any staff.”

Australian vice-chancellors’ Covid-19 salary sacrifices:

30 per cent: Swinburne University

25 per cent: Charles Darwin University, Deakin University, University of Technology Sydney

20 per cent: Bond University, Central Queensland University, Griffith University, James Cook University, La Trobe University, Monash University, RMIT University, University of Adelaide, University of Divinity, University of Melbourne, University of Notre Dame Australia, University of Queensland, University of South Australia, University of Western Australia, University of Wollongong, UNSW Sydney, Western Sydney University

10 per cent: Charles Sturt University, Curtin University, Federation University, Victoria University

Other amounts: Flinders University (A$100,000), Queensland University of Technology (committed to cutting remuneration, undecided on scale), University of Newcastle (A$25,000)

Undecided: Australian National University, University of Canberra

No pay increases: Murdoch University, University of Southern Queensland, University of Sydney

No change planned: Australian Catholic University, Macquarie University, University of the Sunshine Coast

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