Furious union bosses have called for government action after it emerged that university leaders now earn on average more than £277,000 a year.
Research from the University and College Union (UCU) revealed that some vice chancellors are receiving packages worth more than £450,000, while others are spending almost £500 a night on luxury hotels.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt has slammed the news as an “embarrassment” to the sector, accusing bosses of spending “students’ fees with impunity”.
While 24 universities increased the pay packets of their vice chancellors by 10% or more during the 2015/16 academic year, three leaders received a boost of a fifth or more.
During the same period, university staff received just a 1% pay increase, leading them to stage a two-day walk out in May.
The University of Bath’s Dame Glynis Breakwell was revealed to be the highest earner among uni leaders, taking home £451,000.
The psychologist caused outrage among students last year after it was revealed that, despite her impressive salary, she claimed more than £20,000 a year in expenses - including £2 for a packet of biscuits.
But the Dame is not the only boss who has run up some controversial expenses.
In 12 months, the University of Warwick funded £46,348 worth of flights, 99% of which were taken business or first class, while Professor Sir Keith Burnett of Sheffield University spent £24,433 in a year on hotels.
Hunt said it was time for the government to stop universities “outrageous” behaviour and “enforce proper scrutiny of their pay and perks”.
“Those at the very top in our universities need to rein in the largess that embarrass the sector,” she said.
“Unless the government finally steps in we believe many vice-chancellors will continue to spend public money and students’ fees with impunity.
“The huge disparities in the levels of pay and pay rises at the top expose the arbitrary nature of senior pay and perks in our universities.”
The UCU leader added: “It is simply not acceptable that some university heads enjoy inflation-busting pay hikes and all the trimmings of first class flights and luxury hotels, and others simply refuse to answer legitimate questions about their spending habits.”
The National Union of Students has also condemned the rising salaries of vice chancellors.
NUS vice president Sorana Vieru said: “Students are being hit with ever higher tuition fees and sky-rocketing accommodation costs but our money is being funnelled into bonuses for senior management.
“We have seen stagnant pay and worsening conditions for academic staff, yet those at the top are happy to pocket pay rise after pay rise,” she added.
Correction: Information from the UCU originally suggested that Professor Debra Humphries from the University of Brighton was given a 31% pay rise. However, the union has since clarified that this figure was conflated by a change of vice chancellors mid-way through the academic year. Brighton University says Humphries only received a 1.1% increase. This article has been updated to reflect this change.