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UK: Vice-chancellors say outrage over pay is motivated by Brexit

Vice-chancellors
University vice-chancellors have come under fire for high salaries. But are these complaints politically motivated? Source: Shutterstock.com

The salaries of university vice-chancellors have sparked outrage among the academic community. But higher education leaders claim this outrage is actually a response to Brexit discussions.

In 2017, vice-chancellors earned an average salary of £280,877 according to The Times Higher Education.

Students and academic staff were dismayed by this figure, as university fees in the UK are at an all-time high of £9,000 (US$12,535) and set to rise higher thanks to the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework.

However, according to a survey of institution heads, 88 percent of vice-chancellors believe criticism levelled against them is politically motivated rather than arising from “substantive” issues, reported The Telegraph.

Vice-chancellors claimed to be “dismayed” and “bemused” as to why they were being criticised, and thought it could be “political revenge for universities’ strong opposition to Brexit”.

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However, since 85 percent of university students voted to remain in the European Union, it seems unlikely students would be seeking any kind of revenge for universities strongly opposing Brexit.

A report, published by PA Consulting said: “In conversations, vice-chancellors noted that few of these criticisms were new, and offered a range of possible explanations for their being raised at this time.   

“These included political revenge for universities’ strong opposition to Brexit, come-uppance for the perceived immunity of universities to ten years of public sector austerity, and a populist battle between the main political parties for the ‘youth vote’.”

One vice-chancellor said university leaders have fallen from being “national treasures” to “problems that need to be made go away”, according to The Telegraph.

Oxford University’s vice-chancellor has criticised “mendacious” politicians for accusing institutions of using rising fees to subsidise pay.

She also accused politicians of damaging the UK university sector by making “spurious” links between the increase in fees and the rise in vice-chancellor pay – which has gone up every year of the last five.

She went on to suggest vice-chancellors were modestly paid compared with bankers and footballers.

Following the widespread outcry against vice-chancellors’ hefty paychecks, any member of a university’s senior leadership team with salaries over £150,000 will now have to justify their salary to the new regulator, the Office for Students (OFS), or face a fine.  

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