To raise awareness about the “grossly unequal distribution of wealth on our campuses”, student groups allied to the left-wing National Campaign against Fees and Cuts will hold protests throughout January on the days when they say principals’ pay will exceed the total annual salary of low-paid staff, such as outsourced cleaners.
Students at the University of Oxford were the first to mark an “equal pay day”, which took place on 12 January.
They claim Andrew Hamilton, the vice-chancellor, whose remuneration package totalled £442,000 in 2013-14, was paid more in the first 12 days of January than some staff will receive in the whole of 2015.
“By lunchtime [on 12 January] our vice-chancellor Andrew Hamilton will have earned as much as Oxford’s lowest paid full-time staff have in a calendar year,” said James Elliott, from Oxford Defend Education.
“The equal pay day at Oxford is so early it falls outside of our term time,” he added, saying the response to the “grossly unequal distribution of wealth on our campuses” is “part of the fight for a democratic university, run by students”.
The equal pay day at the University of Birmingham, where vice-chancellor Sir David Eastwood was paid £410,000 last year, took place on 13 January.
Students at the university delivered a giant fake cheque from the “Bank of Fat Cats” to the vice-chancellor’s office to draw attention to the pay disparities on campus. They briefly stopped to chant outside the office, which was locked, before sliding the cheque under the door.
Helena Dunnett-Orridge, from the NCAFC’s national committee, who recently graduated from Birmingham, compared Sir David’s pay with those of cleaners, who were only granted the living wage last year following months of protests and strikes on campus.
“The fight for fair pay is also a fight for the rights of women and migrant workers who are almost always disproportionately affected,” she said.
Students groups say they want a 5:1 pay ratio between the highest and lowest paid at all universities, colleges and schools, with all in-house and outsourced workers paid at least the living wage.
Action should also be taken to close the gender and racial pay gaps, and to improve democratic structures in educational institutions, which they claim will help staff, students and local communities to gain greater control over university management.
Other “equal pay day” protests will take place at University College London on January 19 and at Royal Holloway, University of London on January 21.