North East university bosses see wages soar as students face £9,000 fees

The heads of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland universities have seen pay increases in 2012/13 while tuition fees hit £9,000

Durham University vice chancellor Professor Christopher Higgins
Durham University vice chancellor Professor Christopher Higgins

Universities in the North East have defended pay rises which have seen their vice chancellors pocket up to £14,000 more as tuition fees hit £9,000.

Unions have criticised what they say is the widening gap between institution bosses and staff who teach students.

The heads of Durham, Newcastle, Northumbria and Sunderland universities all saw the amount they received increase in 2012/13.

Durham University saw the biggest increase in the region, with warden and vice-chancellor Professor Christopher Higgins’ overall benefits rising by 5.2% – £14,000 – to £283,000.

Newcastle’s Professor Chris Brink saw his salary rise £1,700 to £222,000, with pension contributions up £1,000 to £55,900 and “benefits in kind” falling to £1,700 – a £2,200 total increase that amounts to just 0.79%.

Professor Andrew Wathey at Northumbria – who in 2012 controversially saw his salary alone jump almost 12% – has continued the upward trend with £5,520 more, even before his pension deal is revealed.

And while Sunderland’s Professor Peter Fidler saw his salary fall by £3,000, overall he received £9,000 more as the university gave him £28,000 in lieu of a pension contribution – £12,000 more than the amount they had given him the previous year.

“This confirms what we’ve been saying for some time – that vice chancellors’ salaries are running away, while our members are offered only meagre improvements,” said Ian Owens, regional spokesman for the University and College Union. And the gap between the highest and lowest paid is widening every year.”

Mr Owens said the figures would likely fuel anger among staff, who may yet call for more strike action in the coming term.

“Our members are a highly skilled workforce – to be a lecturer at a university you are looking at at least six years in higher education gaining qualifications – but universities seem to feel they have to give vice chancellors more to keep them in their jobs, not the staff who are teaching students.”

A spokesperson for Northumbria University said the amount it paid was “in-line with the market and reflects the requirement to attract and retain talented individuals who undertake challenging roles in a complex, multi-million pound organisation.”

Robert Gillespie, chairman of Durham University Council said: “Compensation levels for senior employees are determined by the Remuneration Committee of University Council which believes that competitive salary packages are essential to attract and retain outstanding individuals.

“Under the present vice chancellor’s leadership, Durham has achieved UK top five and a world top 100 university status, membership of the Russell Group of universities and has shown greatly improved performance in research and education.”

Nationally, the average vice-chancellorial salary in the Russell Group rose by just over £22,000 to nearly £293,000 in 2012/13, according to a Times Higher Education analysis of 19 of the group’s 24 members.

And once pension payments were taken into consideration, those vice-chancellors received an average of £318,500 last year – up from £302,500.

The highest basic salary for a university vice chancellor in 2012/13 went to the University of Birmingham’s David Eastwood, who picked up £400,000.

Russell Group director general Wendy Piatt said that the salaries of vice-chancellors “reflect their roles leading extremely complex international organisations with annual turnovers of more than half a billion pounds on average”.

Linking the pay rises to tuition fee increases is “very misleading” because “increased income from fees in England has largely offset significant government cuts to public teaching grants”, Dr Piatt added.

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