The vice-chancellor pay debate: An HRD's view


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Part of the challenge with the university sector is that people compare senior pay here with the public sector

It’s important to be mindful of those comparisons because they’re our partner organisations. But universities are increasingly outward-facing; doing a lot of international work. Here at Sheffield our vice-chancellor plays a global role and is often engaging with senior business and political leaders and contributing at a geopolitical level, not just running a business.

Where there’s been difficulties is where organisations have struggled to describe how pay decisions have been made and how leaders have contributed. I think the decisions have always been sound, but they’ve come unstuck where there hasn’t been appropriate transparency or visibility.

Senior pay is obviously a sensitive issue and I think some universities have responded to that by not wanting to say much about it. But that has been interpreted as inappropriate governance or peculiar decisions.

In terms of how vice-chancellors are paid: some may have a performance element but not all and usually that’s relatively modest. So there are perhaps lessons to be learned for corporates on pay simplicity.

Organisations have to be careful about how they explain their leadership pay packages to staff. Part of the issue is humanising senior leadership. If a workforce can understand who the senior leaders are, what they’re doing, and the value they’re creating, then any discontent with senior pay diminishes.

A key role for HR is to make sure they’re talking about pay for everyone. If you’re rewarding a senior leader well because of organisational growth then that should cascade down. So it’s making the connection between a small group of people’s pay and everybody’s pay.

Andrew Dodman is chief operating officer and former chief HR and corporate officer at the University of Sheffield

Further reading

The exec price tag: Reforming executive pay

Executive pay: The CEO's view

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