Reece Parker: Empty words on vice-chancellor pay

Universities Minister Jo Johnson. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Universities Minister Jo Johnson. Chris Radburn/PA Wire
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The Vice-Chancellor of Bath Spa University, Professor Christine Slade, was handed over £800,000 in the past year, it has been revealed.

This outrageous sum of money was the combined worth of numerous forms of income, including her £250,000 salary, a £20,000 housing allowance, and a sum of £429,000 paid for ‘loss of office’. To put Prof Slade’s salary into context, the median annual salary in Bath is just over £23,000, meaning that Slade made 35 times the average of local workers.

Moreover, with Bath charging £9250 a year for undergraduate degree courses, Prof Slade’s income was equivalent to 87 students yearly fees, or 29 entire three year courses.

Whilst Professor Christine Slade’s income was the most excessive in the UK in 2016, she is representative of a trend in which vice-chancellors are increasingly being awarded bloated salaries, which has served to intensify the belief in students that universities are simply being ran to benefit those at the top. The income of both Leeds Beckett and The University of Leeds’ vice-chancellors, inclusive of pension, was over £250,000, whilst the corresponding figures at Leeds Trinity and Leeds Arts University totalled over £150,000 respectively. Jo Johnson, the Minister of State for Universities, has recognised that there has been a problem with these salaries, and has announced that a ‘new regulatory framework’ would be published in the new year, which aims to bring this trend ‘under control’. These words from Johnson are indeed welcomed, but I doubt they will be trusted and left without scrutiny from students. As part of the same Tory government which generated a meteoric, continuous rise in fees, and thus triggered this inflation of vice-chancellor pay, it is hard not to perceive these words as empty. If one situation can act as a microcosm for this whole debate, it is the scenario currently unfolding on the campus of The University of Birmingham. On the same day that it was announced that their staff are set to protest against their vice-chancellor’s pay, emails have been distributed to students asking for donations to a food-bank set up for their peers. The polarising experience of students and their vice-chancellors is increasingly Dickensian.

It is a huge travesty that one of the most cash-strapped sectors of society are forced to line the pockets of those who are, in effect, their gatekeeper to future economic prosperity.

Reece Parker is Editor-in-Chief of The Gryphon at Leeds University.

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