Top reward and bottom slicing

V-c's package rose 6% in year when Sheffield targeted lowest paid's pensions. John Morgan writes

February 2, 2012

'Mid-range package': but v-c's award condemned as 'morally irresponsible'

The vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield received a bonus that increased his pay and pension package by almost 6 per cent to £311,000 last year, as the institution prepared to cut pensions for its lowest-paid staff.

Keith Burnett's 2010-11 award was condemned as "morally irresponsible" by the university's Unison branch, although his total package is still below the Russell Group average.

The rise came in a year when Professor Burnett, in his former role as chair of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, negotiated a 0.4 per cent national pay rise that applied to the majority of the UK's higher education staff.

During 2010-11, Sheffield proposed closing its defined-benefit pension scheme for support staff and switching those on the lowest pay grades to a "cash-balance" scheme. It implemented the plans on 1 December amid continuing opposition from the Unison and Unite unions, which have mounted strikes against the changes.

The deficit in Sheffield's support staff pension scheme was £52.8 million at 31 July 2011, compared with £58.3 million a year earlier.

Unions say Sheffield's move - which closes the defined-benefit scheme to current as well as future staff - will halve the previous typical £7,500 annual pension for support staff earning £15,000 a year.

Professor Burnett's total package (up 5.8 per cent from £294,000 in 2009-10) comprised £267,000 salary, £4,000 of benefits in kind and £40,000 in employer pension contributions, Sheffield's recently published accounts reveal.

A Sheffield spokesman said that Professor Burnett "is a leading vice-chancellor" and his total remuneration package is in the "mid range" compared with his peers at comparable universities. He added that the 5.8 per cent increase was a result of "a non-consolidated performance bonus payment" in 2010-11.

Times Higher Education revealed last month that the vice-chancellors at the 18 of 20 Russell Group universities to have published their accounts by 12 January received an average pay, benefits and pension package of nearly £318,000. The average increase for Russell Group vice-chancellors was 0.4 per cent.

Cardiff University is the only Russell Group institution yet to publish its accounts online.

Under the Sheffield pension changes, unions say, workers on the higher support staff pay grades were allowed to join the defined-benefit Universities Superannuation Scheme designed for academics, while those on the lowest grades were not.

Stuart Anderson, Unison branch secretary at Sheffield, said that for Professor Burnett to receive a pay rise "taking his total remuneration to...more than 20 times the pay of the lowest-paid worker, in the same year that the university effectively tore up many people's retirement plans, is obscene".

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