MPs resign in protest over “unjustifiable” vice-chancellor pay
A total of four MPs have resigned from their roles at the University of Bath in protest over the pay of the vice-chancellor, Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell.
This week three Labour MPs announced that they would be standing down from their positions as members of the Court of Bath University – a body that is meant to represent the interests of the university's stakeholders.
Kerry McCarthy (MP for Bristol East), Darren Jones (Bristol North West) and David Drew (Stroud) all feel that the vice-chancellor's £451,000 a year salary is excessively high, particularly amid rising fees for students.
Their resignations follow that of the Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, Andrew Murrison, who stepped down from the same role two weeks ago over what he described as an “eye-watering” pay packet for the VC.
Why are people so angry?
Dame Glynis' £451,000 pay packet makes her the highest paid VC in the UK. The figure is comprises a base salary of £434,000 plus an extra £17,000 in other allowances – a wage she's been since 2015–16 when Bath gave her an 11% pay rise (up from around £390,000).
As we've reported, this year is the first in which tuition fees will rise from the already-controversial £9,000 a year to £9,250, and they're set to increase each year until 2020. Kerry McCarthy MP believes it isn't “sustainable” or “fair” that vice-chancellors are paid as much as they are while “students are struggling”.
Many have also highlighted the huge gap in pay between the VC and those at the lower end of the university's pay scale, with staff on the lowest pay grade earning approximately £15,000 a year (less than 4% of the VC's salary). In fact, in December 2016 some Bath students called for the uni to adopt a 5:1 pay ratio, meaning no employee could earn more than five times what the lowest-paid worker received.
Is it just Bath?
Earlier this year we reported that the average salary for a UK vice-chancellor was a whopping £277,000 a year. The findings came courtesy of a report by the University and College Union (UCU), and while no VC received as much as Bath's, there were still some eye-watering figures on show.
The average VC salary stands at over 6.5 times that of teaching staff, with 24 universities electing to increase their VC's pay by 10%. Many received a far bigger pay rise, with Professor Debra Humphries of the University of Brighton seeing her wage boosted by 31%.
The University of Bournemouth's Professor John Vinney also took a sizeable increase in pay (up by 20%, taking his salary to £305,000), despite many of his uni's staff being told that they could only have a 1% rise. The most shocking numbers may be yet to come, as a number of institutions refused to disclose details on their spending.
In defence of the VCs
Despite the widespread furore, some high-profile figures have come out in defence of vice-chancellor's salaries. While discussing the pay of Bath's VC, the executive director of Bath Chamber of Commerce, Ian Bell, said:
The university is massively important to the economy of Bath… by any measurement this is a Premier League university doing incredibly well.
I don't think it's unreasonable that if an organisation is performing at a very high level in a national and international context, that the people running the organisation shouldn't be rewarded accordingly.
But perhaps the most notable argument in favour of vice-chancellor has come from the University of Bolton's very own VC. Professor George Holmes (or, to give him his full name as used by the media, yacht/Bentley-owning George Holmes) made the following controversial remarks to The Financial Times earlier this month:
Those at the top end of the sector are not paid enough. Nine Australian VCs earn more than A$1 million [about £615,000] a year. 30 university presidents in the US do.
I have had a very successful career. I hope students use their education to get a good job and then they can have a Bentley. Do you want to be taught by someone who is successful or a failure?