Banker-Style Pay Puts U.K. Academics Under Fire as Fees Rise

(Bloomberg) -- Several of Britain’s university bosses are having to defend their banker-sized salaries to union and student critics as the government-supported institutions raise tuition fees.

Sir Christopher Snowden, the vice chancellor of Southampton University, earned 423,000 pounds ($570,000) in 2017, the institution’s annual financial report showed Friday. His predecessor earned 291,000 pounds in salary and bonus in the year ended in July 2015 at the university in southwest England.

The pay level awarded to many vice chancellors “beggars belief” and “demonstrates just how out of touch university vice-chancellors can be,” Dan Ashley, a spokesman for Universities and Colleges Union, which represents 110,000 staff including academics and lecturers, said by email.

Academic administrators in Britain, which has some of the world’s highest-ranked research universities, are drawing increased attention as they continue relying on public funding while operating a bit more like private entities. Bath University said a vice chancellor will retire earlier this week, following a backlash over her 468,000-pound salary.

Just under a quarter of university funding comes directly from government sources, according to Higher Education Statistics Agency. About 29 percent of the 34.7 billion pounds U.K. universities received in the 2015/16 financial year came from undergraduate tuition fees. The limit on course fees paid by undergrads was trebled to 9,000 pounds per year by the U.K. government in 2012 after it rescued investor-owned banks with public money. It has since risen by another 250 pounds, and many students borrow to stay in school.

Executive Chauffeur

The union is further outraged by the fact that Snowden recently advertised for an “executive chauffeur,” Ashley said. “The time has clearly come for proper scrutiny of the pay and perks of vice-chancellors,” he added.

Snowdon received a 1.1 percent increase in his salary for 2016-17 and turned down a similar rise for the following financial year, a spokesman for the university said by email. The driver vacancy is to replace an existing worker who has dual caretaking and driving responsibilities that serve a number of different members of staff and visitors, he said, adding that Snowden also pays for his own parking.

Gill Rider, chair of the University Council, to which Southampton’s pay committee reports, said Snowden is “one of the most experienced vice-chancellors in the sector with a track record of delivering long-term exceptional results.”

Remuneration Code

Bath University announced on Tuesday that Dame Glynis Breakwell would retire as president and vice-chancellor at the end of the current academic year, amid protests over her salary following a prolonged campaign by students and her fellow colleagues. 

Bath is not among the prestigious 24 Russell Group of research universities in the U.K., while Southampton is.

Snowden’s previous salary had already been the target of criticism from Labour peer and former schools minister Andrew Adonis‏.

“The VC of Southampton Uni is almost as bad as Bath,” Adonis wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “There are many others paid far too much and the spotlight is now on them to cut their pay sharply or resign,” Adonis added.

“It is right to expect that the process for determining pay for senior university staff is rigorous and transparent, and that decisions are explained and justified,” Gareth Morgan, a spokesman for Universities U.K., a body that represents vice-chancellors, said by email.

The Committee for University Chairs is developing a code to provide guidance for university remuneration committees, Morgan added, saying it would be a “welcome development.”

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.