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81% of vice-chancellors still allowed to attend meeting that sets their pay

Only 26 universities didn’t allow vice-chancellor to attend remuneration committee meetings, whilst Two-thirds of universities refused to share full minutes of the meetings

Despite calls to improve transparency around senior pay at universities, four-fifths of institutions (81%) still allowed their vice-chancellor to attend meetings where their pay was set last year, and only a third (32%) provided full minutes of the meeting.

The University and College Union (UCU) sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to 158 universities asking if the vice-chancellor was a member of the remuneration committee or could attend its meeting. It also asked for a copy of the most recent minutes.

Twenty-one universities refused to respond to the FoI, one did not answer the question about its vice-chancellor’s attendance and one had no remuneration committee. Of the 135 universities who did respond, the vice-chancellor was allowed to attend meetings at 109 (81%) of them and was a member of the committee at nine* of them.

UCU said it was shocked the figure for the 2017/18 academic year remained so high following the scandals over senior pay and its governance. Last year the union revealed that 95% of vice-chancellor could attend the meetings in 2016/17, which prompted much criticism and promises to improve the governance of senior pay in universities.

In November, the education select committee’s report into value for money in higher education said the current system of self-regulation for senior management pay was “totally unacceptable”. It said that vice-chancellors must never sit on their remuneration committees and this should be enforced by the Office for Students.

In February UCU labelled the Office for Students a “paper tiger” for refusing to deal with the problems surrounding senior pay and perks in universities. The union said vice-chancellors must be banned from attending the meetings and places reserved for staff and students. It is also calling for full disclosure of all remuneration committee minutes.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said:

“It is shocking that at the height of the senior pay scandals, a vast majority of our universities thought it was fine for the vice-chancellor to still attend the meeting where their pay was set.

“The recent pay and perks scandals at our universities have been incredibly damaging, yet these figures suggest that the higher education sector still refuses to act. If the OfS won’t deal with the issue then the government needs to enforce stronger governance at the top tables of our universities.

“As a minimum, vice-chancellors need to be removed from remuneration committees and staff and student places guaranteed. There must also be full disclosure of the committee’s minutes and the justification behind senior pay and perks.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said:

“Universities receive significant amounts of public funding, so it is only right that their senior staff pay arrangements command public confidence and deliver value for money for both students and taxpayers.

“It should not be the case that vice chancellors are part of the committee that sets their own pay – the Committee of University Chairs has even made this clear through its remuneration code, and we expect a high level of transparency when it comes to universities disclosing this information.

“Where issues with senior staff pay lead to concerns over governance, the Office for Students (OfS) should consider carrying out independent reviews of a providers management adequacy to ensure that these arrangements are fit for purpose.”

* The nine institutions where the vice-chancellor or principal was a member of the remuneration committee in 2017/18:

  1. Coventry University
  2. Cranfield University
  3. Heythrop College
  4. Liverpool Hope University
  5. Rose Bruford College
  6. Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
  7. University of Aberdeen
  8. University of Chichester
  9. University of Portsmouth

109 universities said the vice-chancellor could attend their remuneration committee. Nine said the vice-chancellor was also a member of the committee.

Table 1: VC allowed to attend remuneration committee 2017/2018





No response


Did not answer question


No committee



Table 2: Sent remuneration committee minutes 2017/2018?








No response



No committee




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