Average vice-chancellor remuneration nears £270,000

The Office for Students says it has found evidence of senior staff pay restraint in its analysis of 2019-20 remuneration figures

Average remuneration for vice-chancellors in England increased in 2019/20 to £269,000 – but the number of universities paying their most senior leader more than £400,000 decreased slightly, new analysis from the Office for Students shows.

The OfS, which regulates higher education institutions (HEIs) in England, has compiled a report analysing senior staff salaries and remuneration in 2019/20. It found that 11 HEIs awarded their heads remuneration of £400,000 or more – but this was down slightly from 15 and 16 HEIs in the two years proceeding. The analysis found that 20 vice-chancellors in the country receive 10 times or more the basic salary of staff in their institutions in annual remuneration. The vice-chancellors of Birmingham and Exeter were paid nearly 13 times the median total remuneration of staff at their universities.

According to the analysis, remuneration paid to heads of HEIs rose at 93 providers (56%), fell at 60 (36%) and remained level at 12 (7%).

In 2019-20, the vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, then Sir Steve Smith, was the best remunerated in the country: his remuneration amounted to £584,000.

The head of Imperial College was the second-highest remunerated: Prof Alice Gast collected a salary of £365,000 and £63,000 for accommodation and related expenses.

The vice-chancellor of University College London received a £25,000 payment “for deferring retirement to support the institution through Covid-19” on top of their basic salary of £410,000. Michael Arthur was due to retire at the end of the 2019-20 academic year but stayed until January 2021 until his successor, Michael Spence, started his tenure.

Prof Stephen Toope, the vice-chancellor, received £477,000 in remuneration: £7,000 of which was “flights home” to Canada paid for by the university

The University of Bedfordshire had the tenth highest remuneration bill for 2019-20: the sharp increase related to a £187,000 payment to the outgoing vice-chancellor, Bill Rammell, in “compensation for loss of office”.

Ten vice-chancellors had basic salaries of more than £325,000. Ten had basic salary increases of more than 7% – including the University of St Mark & St John (12%), the Royal Northern College of Music (9.9%), the University of Hertfordshire (9.7%) and Queen Mary University of London (9.1%).

Some of these salaries, and the differences in pay between vice chancellors and academic staff, will appear very high
– Nicola Dandridge, Office for Students

Senior staff pay in higher education is decided by a remuneration committee. The OfS said it was satisfied registered providers in receipt of state funding had transparent governance and remuneration procedures.

The OfS said it had found evidence of pay restraint. The average remuneration for heads of providers “has plateaued over the past three years” – and there was little change in the numbers of senior staff paid more than £100,000 over the last four years. The percentage paid more than £100,000 has increased from 1.4% in 2016-17 to 1.8% in 2019-20.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive at the OfS, said: “These figures demonstrate that – across the sector as a whole – pay increases for vice chancellors were lower than the increases recommended for all university staff.

“But that should not disguise the fact that some of these salaries, and the differences in pay between vice chancellors and academic staff, will appear very high. Those universities should not be surprised to be asked difficult questions about this.”

“Leading a university is a complex and difficult role that requires great flexibility, knowledge and experience, and it is right that those who excel in these roles should be properly rewarded,” said Dandridge.

The University and College Union said: “Vice-chancellors on average are now enjoying a total remuneration of £269k per year and they should now look their staff in the eye and explain why they can’t provide proper pay rises, decent pensions and secure contracts.

“Vice-chancellors like to claim they are paid these astronomical sums because they are uniquely talented and influential, but the reality is that they oversee a sector in which a demoralised staff are forced to take industrial action on an almost yearly basis. These so-called leaders need to wake up and address the litany of failures gripping the sector.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Vice-chancellor salaries must be justifiable and should not be excessive – and the Office for Students has powers to take action if this isn’t the case. Universities receive significant amounts of public funding, which is why we expect them to deliver good value for their students as well as prioritising investment in courses which lead to high paid jobs.

Achieving better value for students and the taxpayer and driving up the quality of higher education provision are priorities for this government.”

Read more: Nicola Dandridge to leave the Office for Students in April 2022

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