Paying a vice chancellor more than £800,000 is “a sick joke” that damages public confidence in tuition fees, a former education minister has said, in response to revelations from Bath Spa University.
Prof Christina Slade, who stood down in August, received £429,000 in her final year as the university’s boss to compensate for “loss of office”, on top of the £250,000 in regular pay and benefits.
She also received £89,000 in pension contributions, £20,000 towards her housing costs and another £20,000 in benefits.
A spokesperson for the university said the pay package was considered to represent value for money.
Lord Adonis, who was minister of state for education from 2005 to 2008, called Prof Slade’s pay “a joke at the expense of students” and said it left him doubting the value of tuition fees.
“If £808,000 is value for money, then I’m the emperor of China,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme.
“It is straight forward outrageous... She should clearly repay most of that sum. I cannot think of any justifiable reason why someone in charge of a university should be paid that much.”
It comes after Bath University chancellor Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell stood down amid a huge row over her £468,000 pay.
Adonis said the Somerset town appeared to be “jinxed”.
Adonis said Prof Slade’s pay was close to 1% of Bath Spa University’s £100 million annual income. He added: “Something has gone seriously wrong... It cannot be acceptable.”
He has called a House of Lords debate later this week, in which he will argue for an independent inquiry into vice chancellors’ pay.
Adonis, a Labour peer who worked in Downing Street’s Policy Unit when fees were introduced under Tony Blair, said he wanted them cut back to £3,000 a year, reversing the Coalition Government’s decision to treble them in 2011 to £9,000.
But he said he feared the system may have to go altogether, partly because “of the way vice chancellors are behaving and putting their snouts in the trough”.
“The whole of the fee regime has become so diseased, it may not be possible [to keep them],” he said. “I’m very worried fees may have to go entirely.”
He added the fees’ system meant students were graduating with £50,000 debt that could rise to £100,000 because of interest.
He said the Archbishop of Canterbury, who earns £80,000 a year, should chair the inquiry he was seeking.
“If he can look after the souls of nearly 60 million people, he can look into the pay of 130 vice chancellors,” Adonis said.
A spokeswoman for Bath Spa University told the BBC: “Having taken legal advice, the university paid Prof Slade a sum which reflected her contractual and statutory entitlements, and was considered to represent value for money.”
Ryan Lucas, president of Bath Spa Students’ Union, said that “excessive” pay of vice chancellors would “cause greater tension within our student body and our staff”.
“Holding a public position, such as that of a Vice Chancellor, should be one of privilege. We want to see universities take an approach to senior staff pay that mirrors the best in ethical business practice,” he said in a statement.
“At a time where there are continued pay restrictions across the sector, the excessive salaries of university leaders can only compound the issue and cause greater tension within our student body and our staff.
“As a community, we feel great frustration at the widening gap between senior staff pay and the investment into the student experience and the Students’ Union.”
He added the union welcomed the university’s new chancellor, Prof Susan Rigby, who is due to start in January.
“Her openness and integrity will go a long way in restoring students’ faith in Higher Education,” Lucas added.