Rising Salaries of U.K Vice-Chancellors Leads to Resignations and Questions

Written by Brian Boon

In the United Kingdom, vice chancellors are under scrutiny for rising salaries which coincides with a rise in tuition, leading to protests by members of parliament (MPs) and students. Vice-chancellors of UK universities are the equivalent of presidents of American universities.

The vice-chancellor at the University of Bath, Glynis Breakwell, resigned following an examination of her salary, which exceeded £468,000 ($626,000). Breakwell’s salary rose 11 percent compared to last year’s pay, which surpassed the 1.1 percent salary cap for non-managerial staff across the higher education sector. In comparison, the highest paid president of American universities, Jack P. Varsalona of Wilmington University, earns roughly $5.4 million (£4,034,880).

The University of Bath asserted that Breakwell’s salary was “comparable with that of long-standing vice-chancellors in other successful universities.” However, the average salary for vice-chancellors in the United Kingdom is roughly £250,000 ($334,000), almost half the amount Breakwell received.

Four MPs resigned from their position on the advisory board at the University of Bath, protesting against the vice-chancellors’ considerable salary. One of the MPs, Darren Jones, believed that the vice-chancellor’s salary “needs to be set within the context of value for money.” An increasing number of British students believe the quality of teaching is declining with tuition prices rising.

Earlier this week, Southampton University’s vice-chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden, admitted that he was a member of a committee that decided his salary. Snowden responded to the allegations claiming that while he is a part of the committee, he was not present for the discussions regarding his pay. An anonymous source from the committee contacted the BBC and exclaimed that Snowden’s statement was false.

According to the University and College Union, more than two-thirds of vice-chancellors of United Kingdom universities sit on the committee that settles their pay. A member of the organization, Sally Hunt, was puzzled by Southampton’s efforts to hide the “fact that their vice-chancellor was on the committee and sets his pay,” since this is the norm.

One of the driving reasons behind the inquiry of vice-chancellors’ salaries in the United Kingdom is the rise in tuition, which has been a controversial topic since last years election. In an effort to attract younger votes, current prime minister, Theresa May, and the conservative party, capped undergraduate tuition fees at £9,250 ($12,380). While Jeremy Corbyn and the Labor party stressed that university tuition should be free for all Britains, similar to Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric during the 2016 Democratic primary race.

In the 2015-2016 school year, tuition was capped at £9,000. However, in July of last year, the Universities Minster, Jo Johnson, announced a £250 rise in the tuition cap and 6.1 percent interest rate on loans, which resulted in student protests throughout the country. Johnson stated that the rise in tuition and interest rates were justified and would lead to better teaching.

While students and members of the United Kingdom parliament protest minor rises in tuition, the average cost of attending private universities in the United States is around $31,000. In last year’s election, Bernie Sanders emphasized the necessity to make university affordable for all Americans. Since 1971, the average cost of tuition to attend a private university in America has increased by roughly 95 percent, and is expected to rise.

About the author

Brian Boon