The National Union of Students (NUS) has condemned Scottish principals’ pay as “unjustifiable” in a report by the organisation. The report found that all but two Scottish universities had principals earning more than the £140,000 paid to Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, with Aberdeen University paying over £300,000.
St Andrews came sixth on the list which looked at the 2011/12 financial year, with Principal Louise Richardson earning £271,000 including pension contribution and benefits in kind. Richardson’s basic salary of £225,000, however, has not risen with inflation since she took office in 2009. New Abertay University Principal, Professor Nigel Seaton, has actually taken an £83,000 pay cut following his installation, taking his basic salary down to £161,950.
The report also noted the pay difference between senior staff and those at the bottom end of the pay scale. Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland said: “There are 88 senior staff members at Scottish universities who earn more than the First Minister, and across our institutions the gap between the lowest and highest paid is too large, with some receiving almost 20 times that of the lowest paid university employee.
“At a time when everyone is feeling the pinch it would be completely out of touch for university principals to think we didn’t need to have greater controls on such high levels of pay.
“A maximum pay ratio between highest and lowest earners and greater staff and student input into pay decisions are just two ways we can tackle inflated pay. These need to be defined into code to ensure that we have that vital trust in our universities and those who are leading them,” he said.
NUS Scotland is now calling for a Living Wage Policy that would limit the ratio universities could pay their senior staff in relation to the salary of their lowest paid employees, noting that the average difference at Scottish universities (at 16:1) is higher than the national public sector average of (15:1).
St Andrews’ result is higher still with an 18 times gap between the Universities highest and lowest earners. However, of those 88 senior staff members quoted by Parker, 52 came from Edinburgh University alone, with an average of only two from the other seventeen Scottish institutions.
A University spokesperson was unimpressed with NUS Scotland’s policy idea commenting: “It’s an interesting if unsurprising spin by the NUS of some old figures. Unfortunately it completely fails to recognise that the Scottish university sector is amongst the most diversified in Europe and one-size-fits-all solutions – and interpretations – tend not to be very reliable.”
Director of Representation, Amanda Litherland was more sympathetic to Parker’s argument but stressed issues within the university sector as a whole:
“I do think that the amount that Scottish principals get paid is extremely high, especially when compared with the salaries of lower-graded staff. However, as a leading institution, St Andrews has to pay senior staff this much to remain competitive and attract the best candidates.
“Something needs to be done in the Higher Education sector as a whole, and hopefully the upcoming Code of Governance will help to regulate this in the long run,” she said.
The new good governance code, drawn up in draft form and due to come into force from August, seeks to make the process of Scottish university pay more transparent, with a committee made up of at least three independent members to discuss senior staff salaries.