Vice chancellors at the UK’s most prestigious universities now earn an average of £342,000 a year - despite the fact that 59% of academics at these institutions are employed on insecure contracts.
Analysis by Times Higher Education (THE) revealed that leaders of Russell Group universities, including Oxford, Cambridge and Edinburgh, take home £19,000 more in salary and benefits than they did just two years ago - a 5.9% hike.
During the same period, university staff received a 1.1% pay increase, leading them to stage a two-day walk out in May.
Union bosses have slammed vice-chancellors for taking “inflation-busting pay rises” at “such a tumultuous time for UK higher education”.
University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Sally Hunt said: “These institutions have the worst records for putting staff on insecure casual contracts so there is an even greater sense of injustice that there is one rule for those at the top and one for everyone else.”
“Now is the time for vice-chancellors to invest in staff but instead they plead poverty on staff pay, and refuse to address the gender pay gap and endemic job insecurity within their institutions,” Hunt continued.
“It’s clear that the minister’s calls for self-restraint in vice-chancellor remuneration have fallen on deaf ears and we need more transparency in how these bumper pay deals are agreed.”
Several vice chancellors also received significant bonuses, with departing university leader Professor Don Nutbeam paid £252,000 as compensation for “loss of office”, plus a £43,000 performance bonus.
When added to the £352,000 in salary, benefits and pension paid to new vice chancellor Sir Christopher Snowdon, the University of Southampton spent £697,000 on these university leaders - £249,000 more than the next highest university in the group.
But Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, defended the increase in pay, telling THE that “many vice chancellors have accepted only very modest increases” and that pay levels were set by independent committees including “expert representatives from outside the sector”.
“These experts understand the importance of attracting and retaining experienced individuals who can demonstrate the highest calibre of leadership and determine the appropriate level of award,” Dr Piatt said.