Minister to ask regulator to investigate university bosses' pay

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Universities should publicly justify the pay of anyone who earns more than the Prime Minister, according to Jo Johnson.

The universities minister is set to call for the Office for Students, the new higher education regulator, to look at the issue, amid growing concerns about inflation-busting wage rises for university bosses.

In a speech in central London, Mr Johnson is expected to warn that it is time for the sector to end the upward spiral of vice-chancellor pay.

"When students and taxpayers invest so heavily in our higher education system, value for money should be guaranteed. Yet, I am still hearing students say that their course is poor quality," he will say.

"This is not good enough, especially when some vice chancellors take home a wage that in some cases exceeds that of the Prime Minister."

Theresa May earns around £150,000 a year.

University heads received an average pay package, including benefits, of £277,834 in 2015/16, according to recent analysis by the University and College Union (UCU).

Mr Johnson is also due to outline plans for institutions to draw up stronger contracts with students, setting out what a student can expect from their university education and announce proposals to assess the teaching of individual subjects at different universities.

The minister has previously issued a call for universities to show restraint on pay, warning there should not be an ''endless upward ratchet'' of salaries.

Earlier this month, UCU called for the information on university bosses' pay to be released in a public register as it warned that ''largesse'' by university leaders had become an ''embarrassment''.

 Mr Johnson is also expected to defend the university funding system, which sees UK students charged up to £9,250 a year.

He has previously argued that the system is "fair" and that scrapping the charges would be ''mind-bogglingly expensive''.

There has been a growing debate on the future of tuition fees, sparked by a Labour general election pledge to scrap the charges.

During a debate in the Commons on Wednesday, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner insisted Labour has "no plans" to write off existing student debt, adding: "We never promised to do so."

Her remarks came after Tory criticism in the Commons following Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's comments towards the end of the General Election campaign that he wanted to think about wiping out the current student debt.

Speaking during an emergency debate on tuition fees, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Labour of using students as "election fodder" and asked Ms Rayner to apologise, while Tory MP James Cartlidge asked Ms Rayner: "On the subject of being weak and wobbly, can you confirm is it still Labour policy to pay off all £100 billion of the outstanding student debt? Is it still your policy, yes or no?"

Ms Rayner, in her reply, said: "A cynic might say that they're wilfully misrepresenting my party's policies. We have never said that we would simply write off all existing debt.

"They refer to comments made by (Mr Corbyn) and I would remind them that he said we would look at steps to reduce or eliminate the debt burden."