95% of UK university heads could attend committee that sets their pay

14 February 2018 | last updated: 24 May 2018

The vice-chancellor was either on the committee that sets their pay or allowed to attend its meetings at 95% of UK universities. Three-quarters of institutions would not release full minutes of the pay committee's meeting.

The union sent a Freedom of information request to 158 institutions asking about membership of their remuneration committee - the body that sets vice-chancellor pay - and asked for a copy of the most recent committee minutes. The findings are part of work looking into pay, perks and transparency at the top of universities by UCU.

When asked about the vice-chancellor's membership of the remuneration committee, 15 universities refused to respond and one said they did not have a remuneration committee. Of those that did respond, and had a committee, almost half (47%) said the vice-chancellor was a member. Of the universities who said the vice-chancellor was not a member of the remuneration committee, just seven said they didn't attend its meetings.

Only a quarter of universities (25%) sent unredacted minutes of the latest remuneration committee meeting. Eighty-nine (55%) universities said they would share the minutes, but just 40 of them were prepared to do so without redacting them fully or in part.

Of the 61 universities that are set to be hit with 14 days of strike action from next week, just two have vice-chancellors who do not either sit on their remuneration committee or can attend its meetings.

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. Over the next decade it increased by 56.2% to £257,904 in 2015/16. 

The union said there had to be radical change to how senior pay was set and governed in universities. The newly-formed Office for Students has promised to tackle the issue, but previous efforts to rein it in have failed. UCU said it wanted to see students and staff on the remuneration committee and the vice-chancellor removed and barred from attending with all minutes made public.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'It is quite staggering that just seven universities say their vice-chancellor was neither a member of the committee that sets their pay, nor allowed to attend the meetings. For too long universities have got away with painting remuneration committees as independent bodies to deflect attention over senior pay.

'The time has come for proper transparency of senior pay and perks in our universities and that starts with full disclosure of the shadowy remuneration committee. It is scandalous that three-quarters of universities refuse to issue full minutes of these meetings.

'We are pleased the Office for Students has said it wants to tackle the issue but plenty of politicians have tried to address the problem in the past and failed. We need the vice-chancellor to be removed from the remuneration committee and barred from attending its meetings. Staff and students should be given seats at the top table in universities and all minutes should be made public.'

Table 1: Membership of remuneration committee

 

Is the VC a member of the remuneration committee?

Yes

67

No

75

No response

15

No committee

1

Table 2: Attendance if not a member

 

If not a member, is the VC allowed to attend?

Yes

67

No

7

No response

16

No committee

1

Table 3: Remuneration committee minutes

 

Sent remuneration committee minutes?

Redacted?

Yes

89

49

No

55

40

No response

13

 

No committee

1

 

 

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