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Time for public register of university heads' pay

14 July 2017 | last updated: 24 July 2017

UCU has today called for proper scrutiny of senior pay in universities in the form of a public register of vice-chancellors' pay and perks.

The union said university senior pay had long been an embarrassment for the higher education sector, particularly in recent years under austerity. UCU has raised the issue with successive universities ministers only to be told that the sector could regulate itself.

Last month current minister Jo Johnson had strong words to say on the matter, but conceded there was not a lot he could do about it other than call for restraint.

The union said a public register was required to restore public confidence as top pay is funded by the taxpayer and through students' tuition fees. University heads received an average salary package of £277,834 for the academic year 2015/16, according to a UCU report released earlier this year. 

Most vice-chancellors' pay is set by a remuneration committee, which universities hide behind when challenged over the pay of their vice-chancellor. However, 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: 'The largesse of those at the top of our universities has long been a source of embarrassment for the sector and UCU has raised the issue many times with ministers. With the amount of debt students are accruing to fund their education under the spotlight, the time has come to expose the murky world of senior pay in universities.

'The huge disparities in the levels of pay and pay rises expose the arbitrary nature of vice-chancellors' pay. It is simply wrong that some of them sit on the committee that decides their pay and that a university can hide behind its shadowy remuneration committee's decisions without releasing minutes from the meeting.

'Years of politicians calling for restraint at the top of universities has fallen on deaf ears and they have to recognise the need for a proper public register of pay and perks which can be scrutinised by the public, including the students who are funding these pay hikes.'