Minister attacks university chiefs' inflation-busting pay increases

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Inflation-busting pay rises for university bosses have been condemned by Jo Johnson, who warned that there should not be an "endless upward ratchet" of salaries.

The Universities minister issued a call for restraint, arguing that there are legitimate concerns about the rate at which vice-chancellors' pay has been growing.

He singled out one leading institution, understood to be Southampton University, which he said has seen a hike of more than £120,000 in its vice-chancellor's pay packet in recent years.

Mr Johnson said he wanted to see organisations such as the Russell Group - which represents the UK's leading institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge - take the lead in controlling pay hikes.

Figures published by the University and College Union (UCU) have shown that university chiefs took home salary packages worth more than a quarter of a million pounds on average last year.

Speaking at the Buckingham University of Festival of Higher Education, Mr Johnson said: "There are legitimate concerns about the rate at which vice-chancellor pay has been growing," he said.

"I think it is hard for students, at a time when they have concerns over value for money and want to see real evidence of value for money from their tuition fees.

"They do have concerns about the rate of growth in vice-chancellor pay.

"I would urge the sector to show leadership in this respect."

Mr Johnson said it was possible for mission groups like the Russell Group to get together and take steps to tackle the issue.

"I don't think we need to accept an endless upwards ratchet, and I would urge them to show the kind of restraint that I've been calling for for some time now," he said.

Speaking after, the minister said it was not for the Government to set levels of pay for universities, which are private, independent institutions.

But he added: "That said, they are in receipt of public money, often for research or via the student loan system and that's why I've been calling for restraint for some time."

"I am concerned at the rates of pay, the rates of inflation in the sector," Mr Johnson said.

"There's one institution on the south coast that has seen v/c pay rise from £227,000 in 2009/10 to £350,000 in 2015/16 - that's really quite a sharp increase."

Southampton University said the salary of its vice-chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, is agreed by the institution's remuneration committee. He was paid £352,000 between October 2015 and July 2016, including pension payments.

Gill Rider, chairwoman of the university's council, said: "Sir Christopher has had a distinguished and successful career in the higher education sector and we believe that this salary is reflective of the quality and high level of expertise which he brings to the university.

"This is a large, complex, international institution and we are delighted Sir Christopher has taken this important leadership role and it is appropriate he is remunerated for his experience."

Southampton was one of a number of Russell Group institutions that failed to achieve the highest award in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) - the first major assessment of teaching standards.

The university, which was awarded bronze, has said it will appeal against the rating.

A Russell Group spokesman said: "Vice-chancellor pay is decided by official remuneration committees which include expert representatives from outside of the sector.

"They understand the importance of attracting and retaining experienced individuals who are capable of managing complex global institutions."

A UCU report published earlier this year concluded that the average pay packet, including benefits, pension and bonuses, for a university chief, based on data from 151 institutions, was £277,834, up 2% on the previous year.

A number of universities changed their head of institution during the course of the year, which could affect the figures.