University vice chancellors’ salaries have increased by 10% in the past year alone and by 14% in the past five years. These increases are in comparison with an average rise of just 5% for other university staff. Vice chancellors received an average salary of £272,432 for the 2014-15 academic year, an amount 6.7 times the average salary of their staff, a report released last week indicates. The University of East Anglia’s vice chancellor, David Richardson, received an pay increase of 6% between 2013-14 and 2014-15, taking his salary from £238,000 to £254,000.

Data obtained by freedom of information (FOI) requests submitted by the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) shows that 23 vice chancellors at universities across the UK have received a pay increase within the last year, despite budgetary pressures and cuts to higher education funding. The organisation submitted requests to 159 institutions, of which 18 did not respond. Universities UK, the group representing the interests of higher education institutions, has claimed that revealing how much some staff earn is “damaging” and makes it harder to recruit. They state that institutions have spent £10m a year answering requests for information and that such a figure is unsustainable. The Freedom of Information Act is currently under review and there are calls for the higher education sector to receive exemption from the existing laws, due to claims that it is too expensive to comply with the amount of requests that institutions receive.

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

The report by the UCU also looked into flights, hotel and residential accommodation costs for vice chancellors. The University of East Anglia came fourth in the top 24 highest spenders on residential accommodation costs. The report indicated that the market sale value of the head of the university’s accommodation for the academic year 2014/15 was £1,400,000.

The report, Transparency at the Top?, is the second investigation by the UCU into senior managers’ pay at universities and is the result of FOI requests submitted by the organisation in autumn 2015. UCU said the report was “designed to shine a light on the arbitrary nature of senior pay and perks in universities”. A letter sent by the UCU to the former universities minister David Willetts in January 2014 criticised the decision-making procedures around excessive senior pay. The letter said that the “sense of unfairness and hypocrisy” is worsened by the fact that “vice-chancellors’ pay is determined in such a secretive way. Minutes of remuneration committees are not made public, except in the most obtuse ways, and, all too often, the vice-chancellor is a member of the committee that sets their pay”.

National Union of Students vice-president Sorana Vieru said that: “when university finances are being stretched to breaking point, and are over-reliant on ever-rising tuition fees, it is almost immoral to see the generous expense policies afforded to already extremely well-paid vice-chancellors”. Responding to the UCU report, the NUS described the disparity in university staff pay levels as “obscene”. It criticised university heads for accepting these “pay cheques, and even free accommodation in some places… [while] students and colleagues are fighting against terrible contracts and employment practices for the lowest-paid staff – including cleaners and casual lecturers”.
“We are told there are no funds for improving teaching and learning, for more staff or for better mental health support for students, but there seems to be money for first class flights for university senior management”, it added.