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UCU says Jo Johnson's call for guidance won't curb excessive senior pay in universities

20 July 2017

Responding to a speech from universities minister Jo Johnson today, UCU said it remained sceptical that anything could be done to curb excessive senior pay in universities as the minister called for guidance on pay restraint.

In his speech this morning Johnson said he wanted the new Office for Students to examine senior pay in universities through a value for money lens and to provide guidance on restraint.

UCU said yet another plea for restraint was likely to fall on deaf ears and said that unless Johnson tackled the system that enabled vice-chancellors to get away with such exorbitant rises then it did not see how efforts to curb excessive pay could succeed where others had failed.

University vice-chancellors have enjoyed huge pay rises in recent years. The average pay (excluding pensions) for vice-chancellors in 2005/06 was £165,105. In the past decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16 (the most recent figures available).

Minister after minister has called for restraint, but conceded there was little they could do and those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Johnson seemed to admit as much last month when pressed on the issue by reporters.

UCU urged Johnson to look at the murky world of university remuneration committees, who are tasked with awarding the big pay rises. UCU has discovered that some vice-chancellors actually sit on these committees. Just one in four institutions provided unredacted minutes of its remuneration committees' meetings when asked by UCU through a Freedom of Information request.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'When in a tricky PR spot on university funding, ministers' default setting has been to criticise vice-chancellors' pay, and call for restraint. This is the second time Jo Johnson has employed this tactic in recent weeks and, while we hope he becomes the first minister to curb excessive pay at the top, this looks like an effort to deflect attention from the wider funding crisis.

'He has to seek broader reforms of our failing system. He should make challenging the secret world of university remuneration committees a number one priority. Amazingly some vice-chancellors are actually on the committees that set their pay.'

Last updated: 18 October 2023