“What is the right level of pay for those who lead UK universities?” asks Andrew Oswald (“Because they’re worth it?”, Features, 14 September). There is an easy answer: let the market decide.
Advertise the next post for a vice-chancellor at £134,000 per annum (roughly half the average vice-chancellor’s pay) and see who applies. There are plenty of staff in UK universities getting by on less than £67,000 (half as much as £134,000) who might well be attracted by such a salary. If no one of sufficient calibre applies, the job can be advertised again at a higher salary, let’s say £150,000, until a suitable person is appointed.
Such a scheme would be much better than the present tail-chasing process which, as I explained in a previous letter (“Market pay piffle”, 10 August), is simply a distortion of the market principle.
Reader in criminology and sociology
Bucks New University
Andrew Oswald’s argument that vice-chancellors should be paid more assumes that talent and pay match exactly – that the top 1 per cent of earners matches those who are “one in 100 in terms of talent”. This made me think of the many people who earn in excess of £170,000 yet display very little talent. That subjective interpretation, however, is not the real point. Closer to home, it is hard to think of any of our brightest academic talents who would be paid that sum, and certainly none in the £300,000 range that, according to Oswald, would put them in the top 0.5 per cent of earners and, thus, talent.
The same is true of the country’s leading heart and brain surgeons: pay for an NHS‑only consultant with some two decades’ service is about £100,000, placing them probably in “only” the top 2 per cent or so for talent. While Oswald concedes some of this later when he talks of academic freedom and of doctors saving lives, it is these unquantifiables that cast down on the whole.
Professor of UK human rights law
University of East Anglia