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Report reveals university heads' pay rises and perks

11 February 2016

University bosses received an average salary of £272,432 for the academic year 2014/15, which was an increase of 3% on the previous year, and is 6.7 times the average pay of their staff, according to a report released today by UCU.

During the same period, staff received a pay increase of just 2%. Over the past five years vice-chancellors have seen their salaries rocket by 14%, while in comparison staff received just a 5% increase.

The report also lays bare heads of institutions' spending on flights, hotels and expenses. It also looks at accommodation that vice-chancellors use at universities' expense and explores institutions' spending on management consultants.

Key findings:

Vice-chancellors' salaries

  • The average salary for a vice-chancellor was £272,432
  • The University of Salford splashed out £516,000 on vice-chancellors' pay (for two incumbents during the year)
  • The highest single earner was Professor Andrew Hamilton at the University of Oxford who received £462,000
  • The average pay increase for vice-chancellors between 2013/14 and 2014/15 was 3%.


  • Vice-chancellors spent an average of £8,560 on flights
  • The highest spender was Professor Sir Jim McDonald at the University of Strathclyde who spent £41,891
  • Half (49.6%) of all flights were in first or business class
  • 21 vice-chancellors flew exclusively in first class or business class.


  • Vice-chancellors spent an average of £2,990 on hotel rooms
  • The highest overall spender was Professor Pamela Gillies of Glasgow Caledonian University who spent £19,865
  • Vice-chancellors spent an average £163.30 per night on hotel rooms
  • The highest spender per night was Middlesex University, whose vice-chancellors spent an average of £448.40 a night. 


  • Vice-chancellors spent an average of £2,205 on expenses
  • The highest expenses bill belonged to Professor Simon Gaskell of Queen Mary University of London who spent £22,805.


  • The average market sale value of residential accommodation provided to heads of institutions was £1,159,825
  • The most valuable property is inhabited by the vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Leszek Borysiewicz, valued at just over £4.5m.


  • The average spend on management consultancy was £499,360.30
  • The biggest spender on management consultancy fees was the University of Reading spending £4.4m.


  • 18 (11%) universities did not respond to the union's FOI request
  • Three used exemptions to refuse to answer all questions and a further four answered just one question
  • Only 22% (35 of 159) provided unredacted minutes from their most recent remuneration committee meeting - where the pay of the vice-chancellor is decided.


The union said greater sanctions were needed to ensure universities justified some of the largesse that has embarrassed higher education in recent years. The report is released as the government consults on whether or not to exempt universities from freedom of information legislation and the scrutiny of senior pay in universities is back in the spotlight.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'The time has finally come for a frank and open discussion about pay and transparency in higher education. The huge disparities in the levels of pay and pay rises at the top expose the arbitrary nature of senior pay in our universities.

'While some continue to enjoy inflation-busting pay hikes and all the trimmings of first class flights and luxury hotels, staff pay continues to be held down. We will continue to campaign for a proper register of pay and perks at the top of our universities. This information must be made readily available and no university should be allowed to get away with not responding to an FoI request.

'It is deeply worrying that ministers are considering relaxing FoI rules for universities, when they are the one measure we have to hold them to account. Our report highlights the need for a strengthening of the current FoI legislation.'

Last updated: 11 February 2016