A NORTH East university has defended how much it is paying its chief officer, claiming it is money well spent. It was revealed this week Durham University’s vice-chancellor, Professor Christopher Higgins, was paid £232,000 last year.
The figures, published by the Times Higher Education magazine, revealed Prof Higgins received a pay rise of £28,000 in 2011/12.
One union leader said the increase was “insulting” to university staff, struggling to negotiate deals for better pay and pensions. But Durham University has responded to the criticism, saying the pay is justified due to the success the institution has achieved in recent years.
Robert Gillespie, chairman of Durham University Council, said: “Compensation levels for senior employees are determined by the remuneration committee of University Council, which believes that competitive salary packages are essential to attract and retain outstanding individuals in an international market for talent.
“Under the present vice-chancellor’s leadership, Durham has achieved UK top five and a world top 100 university status, membership of the Russell Group of universities and has shown greatly improved performance in research, education and the national student survey.”
Prof Higgins studied at Durham, graduating with a first-class botany degree in 1976 and a PhD in 1979.
The world-renowned scientist, who was a professor at Oxford and directed a trailblazing London-based medical research institute, took up the top post in 2007.
The Times Higher report showed the average remuneration paid to the UK’s top university heads, known as Russell Group universities, rose by more than £10,000 last year, with average pay being £280,000.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “Staff are rightly tired of the hypocrisy from vice-chancellors when it comes to pay and pensions. One rule for upstairs and another for downstairs seems to be the order of the day. The lack of self-awareness from university leaders when it comes to their own perks is an embarrassment for the sector and insulting to staff within it who work so hard.
“While staff have seen their real-terms pay fall for successive years, many vice-chancellors and principals have had their snouts firmly in the trough, including the receipt of huge pay awards to get round new pension rules.”
The Russell Group argued its universities contribute billions to the UK economy and “first-rate leadership and academic talent are crucial if our universities are to continue to excel in a challenging economic climate”.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: “Our vice-chancellors and other senior staff lead complex multi-million pound organisations that succeed on a global stage.
“In view of the ongoing financial challenges that universities are facing, many vice-chancellors agreed to only very modest increases, pay freezes or even pay cuts in recent years. In 2010/11 the average Russell Group vice-chancellor pay increase was lower than UK inflation and the country’s average pay rise.”