US imports: vice-chancellors that cost half a million?

Is Imperial’s appointment of Alice Gast indicative of a changing market?

January 9, 2014

Is England about to see the arrival of the first £500,000 vice-chancellor? Will English universities start to import costly leaders from the US as the market system takes hold?

The appointment of Alice Gast as president of Imperial College London, announced last week, may be notable not only because she will be the first woman to lead the institution.

In her current job as president of the private, not-for-profit Lehigh University in the US, Professor Gast was paid total remuneration of $1,162,598 (£708,000) in 2011, according to figures compiled by The Chronicle of Higher Education. That made her the 35th highest-paid private-college president in the US.

Times Higher Education asked Imperial what salary Professor Gast would be paid, and whether it was an increase on the £330,000 paid to current president Sir Keith O’Nions in 2012-13.

The college would not disclose her salary. A spokesman said: “An organisation as complex as Imperial requires a president who can deal effectively at the highest levels of business, government and public bodies, and other academic organisations. Imperial’s annual turnover is over £800 million and, in 2012-13, 59 per cent of Imperial’s income was from non-state sources.

“The demands of this job are high and the salary shall reflect that.”

Traditionally, vice-chancellors imported from the US have been in less senior posts than president. But even so, they have commanded high salaries. As THE reported last week, former New York University professor Craig Calhoun, who in 2012 became director of the London School of Economics, was paid a total of £466,000 in 2012-13, including a one-off £88,000 relocation stipend.

That is in contrast with the £285,000 paid to Sir Howard Davies in his last full year as director of the institution (2009-10).

Michael MacNeil, the University and College Union’s head of bargaining, said: “Leadership is about practising what you preach and staff would understandably view efforts to further increase the pay of senior staff as a controversial move when they are having to try to meet increases in their cost of living with real-term pay cuts.”

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