Lord Adonis challenged a university vice chancellor to halve his £295,000 salary so students could be offered cheaper fees.
Labour peer Adonis, who once headed Tony Blair’s policy unit, rounded on Southbank University vice-chancellor David Phoenix live on air during a BBC Radio 4 interview on the Today programme.
He said universities were “coining it” and the salaries of highly-paid staff should be reduced dramatically before getting into a heated row with Phoenix over what benefits he got beyond his basic salary.
Adonis added no university had produced figures to show their university’s arts and social studies courses, among others, cost £9,250 to deliver or that they are worth such a sum.
He said: “My own view is that Southbank University, and I say this in the presence of the vice-chancellor, could offer many of these courses for about half that level.
“And one of the places they could start saving money soonest, and I say this again with Dave here as I think it’s as well we have these issues out in the open, is his own salary and that of his senior management team.
“Dave is paid a salary of £295,000 for leading a public service institution. He has 10 staff at his university who are paid over £100,000.
“All of those salaries, in my view, should be halved. That would save £1m alone and that would be a big first step towards reducing fees.”
Phoenix replied: “I wish I was paid that, I’d like to see...”
Adonis, a vocal critic of the salaries of vice-chancellors, intervened: “You are, it’s in your accounts for last year.”
Asked about his salary, Mr Phoenix said: “My base salary is £227,000.”
Adonis added: “You then have additional allowances on top and you have a big pension contribution.”
It comes after Andrew Murrison quit his role at the University of Bath in protest over the vice-chancellor’s “eye-watering” pay.
Prof Dame Glynis Breakwell earns £451,000 a year and is the highest paid vice-chancellor in the country.
Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire, said university bosses were “looking increasingly like a self-serving cartel”.
Phoenix later said he believes staff salaries receive media coverage as it “deflects from actually the true question”, which is how much students need to pay at source.
He added: “The fees system when it came in, I think, was incredibly beneficial both to universities and individuals because it did help make sure people could access funds to access education.
“But I would support the view the balance of fees has gone too far.
“But universities have to make sure they have a sustainable organisation - that they have the money to invest in the future.”