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Report reveals university heads' pay rises and perks

22 February 2017

University heads received an average salary package of £277,834 for the academic year 2015/16 - an increase of 2% on the previous year and 6.5 times the average pay of their staff, according to a UCU report released today. During the same period, staff received a pay increase of just 1%.

The University of Southampton is some way ahead at the top of the big salary league having forked out deals worth almost £700,000 in 2015/16. This included a controversial quarter of a million pound pay-off to outgoing vice-chancellor Professor Don Nutbeam.

The University of Bath's vice-chancellor, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell, was the best paid university head last year receiving a package worth £451,000 (a rise of 11%). Richard Lister at University Campus Suffolk and Professor John Vinney from the University of Bournemouth both enjoyed rises of more than 20%.

The report also examined heads of institutions' spending on flights, hotels and expenses, as well as highlighting which leaders have accommodation provided for them by the university and exposing the institutions working the hardest to keep the details secret.

Key findings:

Vice-chancellors' pay

  • The average package for a vice-chancellor was £277,834
  • The University of Southampton splashed out £697,000 on vice-chancellors' pay
  • The highest single earner was Dame Glynis Breakwell from the University of Bath who saw her package increase by 11% to £451,000
  • The average increase for vice-chancellors between 2013/14 and 2014/15 was 2%
  • Fifty-four vice-chancellors took home more than £300,000
  • Eleven were paid more than £400,000
  • Twenty-three vice-chancellors received an increase of 10% or more.


  • Vice-chancellors spent an average of £7,762 on flights, down slightly on the average of £8,560 in 2014/15
  • However two-thirds of those flights (65%) were taken in business or first class in 2015/16, compared to just half (50%) in 2014/15
  • Twenty-two vice-chancellors flew exclusively in first class or business class (compared to 21 the previous year)
  • The biggest spender was the University of Warwick who funded £46,348 worth of flights (99% of them in first or business class).


  •  Vice-chancellors spent an average of £2,982 on hotels in 2015/16, a very similar amount to the £2,990 spent the previous year
  • The highest overall spender was Professor Sir Keith Burnett of the University of Sheffield who spent £24,433
  • Vice-chancellors spent an average £154 per night on hotel rooms , down slightly on the previous year's £163
  •  The highest spender per night was Professor Dame Julia Goodfellow of the University of Kent who spent an average of £494 a night - £340 above the average and almost £100 more than the second highest spender.


  • A third of universities (35%) said that they provided accommodation for their vice-chancellor
  • The average expenses bill was £1,150, down from £2,205 the previous year
  • Eight (5%) universities did not respond to the union's FOI request and five (3%) used exemptions to refuse to answer all questions
  • Only a quarter (40 out of 159) provided unredacted minutes from their most recent remuneration committee meeting - where the pay of the vice-chancellor is decided.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Those at the very top in our universities need to rein in the largesse that embarrasses the sector and the government needs to enforce proper scrutiny of their pay and perks. Telling staff that there is no money for pay rises while signing off golden goodbyes worth a quarter of a million pounds or handing out pay rises in excess of 10% to 23 university heads is quite outrageous.

'Unless the government finally steps in we believe many vice-chancellors will continue to spend public money and students' fees with impunity. The huge disparities in the levels of pay and pay rises at the top expose the arbitrary nature of senior pay and perks in our universities.

'It is simply not acceptable that some university heads enjoy inflation-busting pay hikes and all the trimmings of first class flights and luxury hotels, and others simply refuse to answer legitimate questions about their spending habits.

'This report highlights the need for a strengthening of the current FoI legislation and we have written to the commissioner asking them to investigate those universities who have refused to reveal the details of their spending.'

Last updated: 23 February 2017