Universities Minister Jo Johnson has announced plans to introduce new requirements for universities to justify paying staff more than the prime minister (£150,000 per year) and to publish the details of staff earning over £100,000 per year.

Mr Johnson accused vice-Chancellor pay of spiralling upward in recent years. However, while pay has increased substantially in nominal terms, it has increased in line with average earnings (by 13 percent) since 2009-10 when records began. In addition to calling for ëgreater restraintí in staff remuneration, threats of fees for non-compliance were issued.

Speaking at Brunel University at the annual conference of universities UK, Jo Johnson said that universities which fail to justify Vice-Chancellor salaries in excess of £150,000 are likely to receive fines from the newly created regulator, the Office for Students.

Central to the public debate is Oxford University, who this month topped the Times Education World Rankings again. However, celebrations were muted as Oxford Universityís Vice-Chancellor addressed criticism regarding higher education sector pay.

Professor Louise Richardson said that she competes in a “global marketplace” with, for example, America where public university leaders are paid as much as £770,000 per year. Last year, the highest paid private university leader received a salary of over £3,850,000.

In the UK the average salary for a Vice-Chancellor is £339,657. Professor David Richardson, the Vice-Chancellor of UEA, earns £271,000 per year.

Former Labour party politician  and member of the house of Lords, Andrew Adonis, has joined in with the attack on higher education remuneration, questioning the legitimacy of the ëglobal marketplaceí argument on BBC Radio 4, in the House of Lords, and on Twitter in recent weeks.

Lord Adonis has pointed out, for instance, that examples of professors and Vice-Chancellors moving across the Atlantic isnít unknown. In 2014, Professor Gast left her job as President (equivalent to Vice-Chancellor) at Lehigh College (USA) taking a 37 percent pay cut to become President of Imperial College London in 2014.

Among the demands of Jo Johnson was a call for ìgreater transparency and opennessî from the remuneration committees who award Vice-Chancellors their pay. General Secretary of the University and College Union, Sally Hunt, agreed with Mr Johnson, saying: “Over two-thirds of vice-chancellors sit on their own remuneration committees, and  three-quarters of universities refuse to publish full minutes of the meetings where leadership pay is decided”.

Such criticisms hold increasing weight as Vice-Chancellors’ salaries drift toward CEO proportions before bonuses, pensions and other perks are accounted for. The level of transparency offered by publicly listed companies remuneration committees far exceeds that of universities who donít uniformly offer comparably detailed explanations, if any at all.