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Universities refuse to reveal secret details of pay increases for vice-chancellors

10 April 2014

Just two UK universities provided details of their vice-chancellor's pay rise for a report looking into the murky world of senior academic pay released today.

  • Four-fifths of universities refuse to even release minutes of committee that sets vice-chancellor's pay
  • Just two sets of minutes from the 27 received list the vice-chancellor's pay increase and a reason for it
  • Minutes show university high earners received presentation on how to maximise their pension pot
  • Minutes suggest some vice-chancellors are consulted about their pay package
  • UCU says taxpayers and students have a right to know the reason behind massive pay rises

The report, from UCU, reveals that just 27 out of 139 institutions sent minutes of their remuneration committee - the powerful committee tasked with setting the vice-chancellor's pay. Of those, half (14) sent redacted minutes and just the universities of Glasgow and Stirling included any sort of details on the pay award.

UCU said the time had come for the lid to be lifted on inflation-busting pay rises for people running universities. UCU called for full details of pay awards and the reasons behind them to be published and staff and student representatives to sit on the clandestine remuneration committees.

Two-thirds of universities (66%) that UCU contacted snubbed its request for the minutes of the committee, often citing confidentiality as the reason. A further 15% did not even respond to the call for information.

Data released last week revealed that vice-chancellors' salaries and benefits rose by an average of 5.5% between 2011-12 and 2012-13. A fifth of universities thought it appropriate to reward their vice-chancellor or principal an annual increase of at least 10% and around of third enjoyed a rise of between 5-10%.  With pension payments, the average vice-chancellor's pay was £254,692.

The union said the reasons given by the two remuneration committees that did include pay details in their minutes were limited to a few words and exposed the arbitrary nature of the rises.

The University of Glasgow said its principal had provided 'excellent leadership' and awarded him a 2% pay rise. Over at the University of Stirling, the committee was less effusive and endorsed a report of 'strong performance by the university under the principal's leadership'. He was awarded a 5% rise.

Vice-chancellors say that they have nothing to do with the remuneration committees' decisions on their pay. However, three of the 27 sets of minutes received - those from the universities of Brighton, Bristol and Dundee - indicated that the vice-chancellor had influenced what would happen to his pay, or that the committee would speak to the vice-chancellor about its plans for his pay (see notes for more).

Just one set of minutes - from Birkbeck - referenced the idea of a union observer on the remuneration committee. However, it was unanimously rejected due to the 'highly confidential' nature of the information being considered.

Although the 27 sets of minutes the union received gave little information on pay, UCU was able to ascertain that at least five universities' remuneration committees (Birmingham City, Brighton, Durham, Strathclyde and Westminster) had enjoyed presentations on how high earners could maximise their pension pots following changes to the pension scheme.

University staff have seen their pay fall by 13% in real-terms since 2009 and have been out on strike six times (three full-day strikes and three two-hour stoppages) since October in their fight for fair pay. Pay talks between the unions and the vice-chancellors' representatives take place on Tuesday (15 April). UCU's marking boycott is due to start on Monday 28 April if the dispute has not been resolved.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Millions of pounds of public money are spent on vice-chancellors' salaries, yet their pay rise is decided behind closed doors with no accountability.

'The time has come for the lid to be lifted on the hitherto murky world of remuneration committees and senior pay in our universities. Students are paying £9,000 a year and they, and the taxpayer, have a right to know why so much of their money is going on paying the vice-chancellor.

'All but five university vice-chancellors earned more than the Prime Minister last year, while staff have been on strike six times this year in protest at a measly 1% pay offer. We believe there is a strong and legitimate public interest to justify these growing six-figure salaries.'

Minutes UCU did receive, and responses from universities refusing to send their minutes through, are available from the press office. See table in notes for institutions' responses.


From the University of Brighton's minutes:

The Committee agreed that the appropriate message to convey was that the Board of Governors wished to pay the Vice-Chancellor a salary between the average and the upper quartile for comparable institutions and a figure that reflected this position was agreed.  However, it was recognised that the sector unions were currently in dispute with employers over pay and the Committee had no wish to put the Vice-Chancellor in a difficult position. It was agreed that the Chairman should convey the Committee's view to the Vice-Chancellor in a private discussion. 

From the University of Bristol's minutes:

The Chair presented his review of the Vice-Chancellor's performance. In light of the review, and given that the Vice-Chancellor had indicated that he did not think a salary increase was appropriate in the circumstances, it was agreed that the salary and benefits should remain unchanged.

From the University of Dundee's minutes:

The Committee noted that the Principal had requested that the issue of his salary should not be discussed by this meeting of the Remuneration Committee but should instead be included in the negotiations regarding his new contract.

Universities' responses to UCU's request for remuneration committee (RC) minutes

Summary report. Browse all responses here.


RC minutes received


RC minutes not available

No response (by 2/4/14) 

University of Aberdeen


University of Abertay


Aberystwyth University


Anglia Ruskin University


The Arts University Bournemouth


University of the Arts


Aston University


Bangor University


University of Bath


Bath Spa University


University of Birmingham


Birmingham City University


University College Birmingham


Bishop Grosseteste University


University of Bolton


Bournemouth University


University of Bradford


University of Brighton


University of Bristol


Brunel University


Buckinghamshire New University


Canterbury Christ Church University


Cardiff University


Cardiff Metropolitan University


University of Central Lancashire


University of Chester


University of Chichester


City University London


Coventry University


Cranfield University


University for the Creative Arts


University of Cumbria


De Montfort University


University of Derby


University of Dundee


Durham University


University of East Anglia


University of East London


Edge Hill University


University of Edinburgh


Edinburgh Napier University


University of Essex


University of Exeter


Falmouth University


University of Glasgow


Glasgow Caledonian University


University of Gloucestershire


University of Greenwich


Glyndŵr University


Harper Adams University


Heriot-Watt University


University of Hertfordshire


University of the Highlands & Islands


University of Huddersfield


University of Hull


Imperial College London


Keele University


University of Kent


Kingston University


Lancaster University


University of Leeds


Leeds Metropolitan University


Leeds Trinity University


University of Leicester


University of Lincoln


University of Liverpool


Liverpool Hope University


Liverpool John Moores University


University of London


Birkbeck, University of London


Central School of Speech and Drama


Goldsmiths, University of London


Heythrop College


Institute of Cancer


Institute of Education


King's College London


London Business School


London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)


London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine


Queen Mary, University of London


Royal Academy of Music


Royal Holloway, University of London


Royal Veterinary College


St George's, University of London


University College London


London Metropolitan University


London South Bank University


Loughborough University


University of Manchester


Manchester Metropolitan University


Middlesex University London


Newcastle University


Newman University


University of Northampton


Northumbria University


Norwich University of the Arts


University of Nottingham


Nottingham Trent University


The Open University


University of Oxford


Oxford Brookes University


University of Plymouth


University of Portsmouth


Queen's University Belfast


Queen Margaret University


University of Reading


The Robert Gordon University


Roehampton University


Royal Agricultural University


Royal College of Art


University of St Andrews


University of St Mark and St John


University of Salford


University of Sheffield


Sheffield Hallam University


University of Southampton


Southampton Solent University


University of South Wales


Staffordshire University


University of Stirling


University of Strathclyde


University of Sunderland


University of Surrey


University of Sussex


Swansea University


Teesside University


University of Ulster


University of Wales Trinity Saint David


University of Warwick


University of West London


University of Westminster




University of the West of England


University of the West of Scotland


University of Winchester


University of Wolverhampton


University of Worcester


University of York


York St John University

Last updated: 10 December 2015