V-cs’ pay rises even if student demand falls

THE analysis reveals no correlation between applications and leaders’ pay as performance targets remain shrouded in secrecy

August 7, 2014

Source: Alamy

Top billing: remuneration for vice-chancellors can grow even when applications to a university decline, an analysis found

Vice-chancellors’ pay rises have been called “utterly arbitrary” after a Times Higher Education analysis revealed that they bear no relation to performance at their universities in terms of student applications.

In one case, a vice-chancellor’s total remuneration package rose by nearly a fifth despite applications, a key factor in a university’s financial health in an increasingly marketised system, falling by a quarter.

The findings raise further questions about how vice-chancellors’ salaries are set. Critics have argued that the process is not transparent and that performance criteria are kept secret.

THE looked at the year-on-year change in applications that universities had received through Ucas to the end of June 2012 – the first year of £9,000 tuition fees – and compared this with the change in vice-chancellors’ remuneration from 2011-12 to 2012-13.

There was no statistical correlation between the two figures.

The University of Roehampton suffered a 25.3 per cent fall in applications, but the vice-chancellor, Paul O’Prey, received an 18.7 per cent increase in his total pay and pension package, taking it to £9,000.

A Roehampton spokesman said that Professor O’Prey’s leadership “has seen the university flourish” and that undergraduate applications were now 22?per cent up on two years ago. The majority of his rise was due to an increase in pension provision.

Disconnected figures

The university that suffered the greatest fall in applications was the University for the Creative Arts – a drop of 29.2 per cent. In the wake of this decline, the vice-chancellor, Simon Ofield-Kerr, received a 5.1 per cent rise in his remuneration (lifting it to £179,543), with his salary and pension rising at the same rate.

A spokeswoman said that for that year, the vice-chancellor had not been awarded any performance-related pay, which is based on enrolment and other targets.

However, Dr Ofield-Kerr was still awarded the above-inflation pay rise in the context of “sector benchmarks and the need to retain senior staff” and as a way of “recognising the achievements of the vice-chancellor during his first year in office”, the spokeswoman said.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said that the figures “help expose the utterly arbitrary nature of vice-chancellors’ remuneration”.

But she added that “we don’t think a crude reward for bums on seats is the way to pay vice-chancellors”.

Jeroen Huisman, a professor of higher education at Ghent University and an expert on university governance, said that it might be expected that student applications would be an “important” element in determining a vice-chancellor’s pay.

But remuneration committees might focus instead on “outcomes” such as a university’s score in the research excellence framework, its ranking, or its student satisfaction or graduate employment rates, he said, because it could be argued that these measures would lead to a good reputation that would in turn attract more applicants.

He added: “Another factor that likely will disturb the relationship between institutional performance and pay is the power position of the vice-chancellor.”

Michael Shattock, visiting professor in higher education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said that vice-chancellors’ salaries were based on a number of criteria and “certainly not just on student numbers”.

He added that the “altogether too large” gap between vice-chancellors’ and lecturers’ salaries had “got out of hand” and could now be reversed only “by some external action”. Nevertheless, he did not think application rates should determine vice-chancellors’ pay, he said.

It remains unclear exactly how performance targets for university leaders are set.

In April, the UCU said that four-fifths of universities had refused to release minutes of meetings of the remuneration committees that set vice-chancellors’ salaries.

More than half of those that did respond to the union’s Freedom of Information request redacted the minutes, which meant that it was difficult to see how remuneration was set.

In 2012-13, the average remuneration package for vice-chancellors increased by 3.3 per cent.

THE also asked the vice-chancellors’ organisation Universities UK and the Russell Group whether they could point to any peer-reviewed body of evidence that showed a cause and effect between university leaders’ pay and an institution’s performance.

Neither produced any research, and the Russell Group said that vice-chancellors’ remuneration was a matter for member universities.

david.matthews@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (3)

This is a very silly piece.There is probably a strong correlation of VC pay with actual student numbers. I see no reason why there should be a similar correlation with applicant numbers because students apply to several universities and what matters is who manages to be first choice.
"The Russell Group said that vice-chancellors’ remuneration was a matter for member universities" is newspeak for 'unaccountable' - and the suggestion that the best way to improve our now intellectually impoverished universities is to pay VCs more whilst simultaneously paying the staff actually doing the work less is just plain delusional.
Dominic, I would argue the reverse. Many universities have far more applicants than places, but choose to keep their numbers stable because they don't have the extra facilities, for example. David Willetts tried to encourage Oxbridge to take more students, but without much success! Therefore I don't think enrolment is a good metric of performance, because so many institutions simply don't want to expand. Applications, however, I would say are a much better measure of how desirable a university is to prospective students, and certainly the best measure we have. As you say, I suppose it is theoretically possible that you could have, for example, 10,000 students applying to a university as their first choice one year, then 12,000 applying the next but as a last choice. But I'm simply not convinced that this is likely enough to invalidate it as a metric. Students don't necessarily get their first choice university so many will end up going to what they might have thought of their last choice when they applied through UCAS. David

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