Almost a dozen universities gave their vice-chancellors a pay rise that was above the UK average despite their seeing a significant fall in student numbers, according to an analysis by Times Higher Education.
The latest annual survey of UK vice-chancellors’ pay, compiled by the accounting firm Grant Thornton for THE, shows that in 2015-16, university heads received an average package of £280,877, including pension contributions, a rise of 2.2 per cent on 2014-15.
However, although the overall increase was more modest than in previous years, 11 universities awarded larger-than-average pay rises to their leaders even as their student recruitment took a tumble of more than 5 per cent from 2014 to 2015.
The number of students recruited by universities, and in turn the income they bring through tuition fees, took on added importance in the 2015-16 academic year, the first in which controls on undergraduate numbers were lifted in England.
Among the institutions where student numbers fell but pay rose significantly was the University of East London, whose head, John Joughin, saw his total pay, including pension, climb by 13.5 per cent in 2015-16 despite the number of UK and European Union students placed at the institution by Ucas falling by 10 per cent year-on-year.
A spokesman for the university said that it “does not award annual pay increases to our leadership team but instead reviews remuneration packages on a periodic basis. The increase in Professor Joughin’s salary…follows a period in which there had been no change for a number of years.”
John Rushforth, executive secretary of the Committee of University Chairs, the UK association for governing bodies, said that remuneration committees had to take “a rounded view” of a vice-chancellor’s pay in the context of a university’s long-term plans, which in themselves might have a short-term impact on something such as student numbers.
“The key point for the CUC would be transparency in that committees should be able to justify the decisions that they make in the context within which the institution is operating," he said.
However, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that “huge disparities in the double-digit rises for some at the top and the more modest increases elsewhere expose the arbitrary nature of pay in our universities”. Greater transparency was still needed in how senior pay was set, she added.