18/07/2018 18:09 BST | Updated 19/07/2018 00:27 BST

Higher Education Boss Handed £550,000 In 'Golden Goodbye'

Professor Madeleine Atkins got a 96% hike on pay deal when universities' body was scrapped.

Professor Madeleine Atkins

A higher education boss was handed more than £500,000 in a “golden goodbye” pay package after the government scrapped her organisation. 

Professor Madeleine Atkins, ex-chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), secured a 96% increase on her annual pay deal in the body’s final 12 months, accounts published this week show.

The HEFCE was wound up by the Department for Education and replaced by the Office for Students and Research England in April. 

Atkins, who was appointed to HEFCE for a five-year term in 2014, had a final remuneration package worth £554,648 once bonuses, pension payments and other benefits were counted. Salary accounted for £528,891 of the total.

Her previous year’s total remuneration was £282,354, of which salary comprised £263,865. 

It comes after the higher education sector was beset by a number of high pay scandals. 

Unions have been demanding action since it emerged last year that university leaders earn, on average, more than £277,000 a year. 

Research from the University and College Union (UCU) last year also revealed that some vice chancellors are receiving packages worth more than £450,000.  

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “While much was made of the pay cut taken by the Office for Students chief executive, less has been said about this extraordinary golden goodbye sneaked out in the accounts at the end of term.

“University staff have once again been offered a shoddy pay deal that will do nothing to arrest the decline in their pay, yet they see those at the top begin rewarded with massive pay deal once again.”

Atkins begins a new role as president of Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, in October. 

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Angela Rayner has called the pay out a "kick in the teeth" for students

The accounts summary says that, as Atkins had ten months of her contract yet to run, she “received a payment of £177,728 in lieu of her basic salary for the notice period 1 April 2018 to 31 December 2018”.

Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner said the Government has “entrenched inequality in the system” with executives and vice chancellors getting large salaries, while staff face real terms cuts to their pay.

She said: “This will feel like another kick in the teeth to students struggling with fees and low paid university staff who whose pensions have been under threat.” 

She added: “This cannot continue. The next Labour Government will ensure this ends and impose a 20:1 salary ratio at publicly funded institutions, including in universities.”

The payment was approved by the Department for Education, the report says.

“Atkins was also entitled to a redundancy payment of £67,250, which she has declined to take and asked for the payment to be made to charity,” it adds.

The report said Atkins was offering advice and support to the Office for Students and Research England on legacy issues for a period of two years.

A Department for Education spokesman, said:“Professor Atkins’ role as Chief Executive of HEFCE ended on 31 March 2018, before the new regulatory body for higher education, the Office for Students, became fully operational on 1 April 2018.

“In accordance with her employment rights she was entitled to a redundancy payment, which she donated to charity, and despite her role coming to an end, Professor Atkins has agreed to make herself available to provide support and advice to the Office for Students and Research England – this is for any legacy issues relating to HEFCE for a period of two years.

“She has also been in discussion with the Department for Education regarding how her extensive expertise and experience can continue to be made available.”