New code to curb university bosses' pay deemed inadequate

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Vice chancellors' pay continues to be a subject of controversy at UK universities

A voluntary code requiring universities to justify repeated pay rises for vice chancellors has been criticised for being ineffective in curbing excessive pay.

The code, published by the Committee of University Chairs (CUC), bars vice chancellors from sitting on committees that decide their pay, requires universities to justify senior staff salaries, and includes guidance on “fair and appropriate” pay for senior staff. Although voluntary, institutions who do not adopt the code must publicly explain how their alternative arrangements meet the principles of the guidance.

Chris Sayers, chair of the CUC, told Radio 4’s Today programme that the new guidelines will promote “more openness”.

“This code is extremely important. There is overwhelming consensus among the chairs of UK universities that the public should rightly know how university money is being spent and how chancellors are paid for the very complex job that they do. Universities are some of the most complex institutions in the UK, and the leadership that comes from vice chancellors has helped our education sector to become one of the very best in the world for teaching and research,” he said.

“It allows us to get the balance right through sustaining these world-class organisations; recruiting and rewarding those that we trust to lead them, and at the same time balancing the need to demonstrate value for money."

However, the guidelines have been criticised by some for appearing to be a watered-down version of a draft published by the CUC back in January. The original draft code included a requirement for universities to say how much more their vice chancellor earns than the median pay of their overall workforce, and compare this multiple to the national range. Those in the highest 20% would then have to justify high salaries.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), told Radio 4 that the code was “a disappointment”.

“This seems to be no different to what’s happening already. We have always been able to work out the proportion of a C-suite [salary] compared to [that of] everyone else. I understand that there is still no staff presence, no student presence, and still a completely separate process to that which they use to reward everyone else, so it’s a disappointment,” she said.

This code comes as vice chancellor pay at UK universities has been the subject of ongoing controversy. In February 2017 a report from the UCU found that university heads received an average salary package of £277,834 for the 2015/16 academic year, an increase of 2% on the previous year and 6.5 times the average pay of their staff. Then, in February 2018, it was also revealed by the UCU that nine out of 10 vice chancellors sit on or attend the committee that sets their salaries.

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