Power and Pay: University chiefs' pay soars as fees row rumbles

The pay packets of vice-chancellors at Yorkshire's top three universities are still rising despite the furore over higher fees for students.

York, Leeds and Sheffield universities' vice-chancellors all now earn more than 250,000.

Brian Cantor at the University of York had a salary package increase of 2.8 per cent to 255,450 in 2009-10 and Keith Burnett at Sheffield University had a 2.4 per cent rise to 294,000.

Michael Arthur at the University of Leeds received an unchanged basic salary and benefits in 2009-10, but a 4,000 increase in his employer's pension contribution took his total salary package up 1.3 per cent to 319,000 – the highest pay packet of any vice-chancellor in the region.

Universities justify the salaries by highlighting the need to attract and keep crucial staff and the size of the organisation they run.

But the National Union of Students condemned the salaries enjoyed by vice-chancellors as "lavish" in the wake of the Government's decision to increase tuition fees and called for them to take pay cuts.

A University of Leeds spokesman said attracting and retaining talented staff was critical to the university's future.

"The vice-chancellor's salary is agreed by a committee of the governing body made up of external (lay) members.

"The committee takes account of a range of factors, including performance and data on vice-chancellors' salaries elsewhere, particularly in our peer group of large research-intensive universities," he said.

He added that Prof Arthur's unchanged basic salary and benefits of 260,000 is in line with Lord Hutton's recommendations last year that there should be a multiple of no greater than 20 to one between lowest and highest earners in a public sector organisation.

Prof Cantor's package at York has risen by 24 per cent in the past three years.

Although his basic salary and benefits dropped by around 3,000 to 207,592 last year on 2008-09, his employer's pension contribution went up by more than 10,000 to 47,858.

A University of York spokesman said the vice-chancellor's salary increase was less than its average increase in staff pay of approximately two per cent in 2009. But he added all universities were required to increase the employer pension contributions of all staff who were members of a national pension scheme.

A University of Sheffield spokesman said: "Keith Burnett is a leading voice in the UK university sector and his salary is in the mid-range of vice-chancellors' pay from comparator universities.

"This salary reflects the huge responsibility of leading a complex organisation with an international reputation, in a sector where competition and demand is high."

There were also increases in the vice-chancellor's salary packages at Sheffield Hallam and Huddersfield universities.

The basic salary and benefits of Sheffield Hallam vice-chancellor Philip Jones were frozen in 2009-10 but his total pay package increased by two per cent to 250,000 after a 4,000 pension contribution increase to 34,000.

The salary package of Huddersfield University vice-chancellor Bob Cryan rose by 5,000 to 219,000 from 2008-09, but this is now the same level as his remuneration in 2007-08.

Bradford University's vice-chancellor, Mark Cleary, had a 1,000 cut in his pay packet to 208,000 – although this has risen from 187,000 in 2007-08.

NUS President Aaron Porter said the salaries were "astonishing" at a time of "overzealous" Government cuts.

"Nationwide, 130 university heads earn more than the Prime Minister – surely they can afford to take a pay cut to protect their students," he added.

Higher education 'As big as banking'

Roger LEWIS is the chief executive of Yorkshire Universities, the body which represents the region's higher education bosses.

As universities account for around 3.5bn of the region's economy, he believes such high salaries are necessary.

"Higher education is as big as the banking or food and drink industries and you have got to think of vice-chancellors as being equivalent to those executives," he said. "That's the justification."

Prof Lewis, who has taught at all educational levels, added: "The workload is pretty phenomenal – they are responsible for new buildings and which courses are run, and many are still practising academics."