V-c pay levels reflect impact of policy decisions

August 3, 2017

It is difficult to say whether the recent criticisms of vice-chancellors’ salaries by Jo Johnson, the universities minister, and Lord Adonis, the former education minister (“Who has final say on pay?”, Leader, 27 July), represent hypocrisy or ignorance.

Vice-chancellors’ remuneration has indeed risen far more quickly than that of other university staff in recent years. This is fundamentally the result of the efforts of governments since the mid-1980s to turn universities into private commercial entities. Government-led attempts to make university governance more like corporate governance, with a majority of governors drawn from commercial backgrounds, have also contributed.

While the ratio of vice-chancellors’ salaries to lecturers’ pay is still nowhere near those in the private sector, the same processes can be observed here that have led to grotesque differentials in many large companies. More competition from private providers, the teaching excellence framework and so on will only make matters worse.

Johnson and Adonis are or were members of governments that pursued these policies. Perhaps a decent silence on their part, or even a moment of reflection, would be appropriate at this point?

Roger Brown
Emeritus professor of higher education policy, Liverpool Hope University
Former vice-chancellor, Southampton Solent University

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