4 thoughts on “In defence of the ‘fat cats’ of academia”

  1. Posted 30/11/2017 at 10:53 | Permalink

    Excellent piece. The problem in my view is that they take taxpayers’ money and are thus more subject to public scrutiny and criticism. Let’s take a step further. If they are becoming less financially dependent on public funding, why don’t British universities free 100% from the government and fund themselves with no government money at all?! If not all, surely the top universities in the UK which compete worldwide would be able to do it. Then they would be free to fix their salaries as they think best, as any other private company does.

  2. Posted 30/11/2017 at 15:08 | Permalink

    The highest paid US private university president is Robert J Zimmer at U of Chicago, who is paid $ 3.3million, 40% of which is deferred compensation. Chicago’s annual income/expenditure is $3.8 billion. Harvard’s annual income/expenditure is $4.5 billion, yet its president is paid just $900,000. The President of Colorado State University is currently paid $500,000 (£376,000), following a pay rise to prevent him being poached by another institution. The annual income/expenditure of CSU is $1 billion. This is to what you should be comparing UK universities. The University of Bath has annual income/expenditure of £250 million, comparable to Slough Borough Council – a far more complex and important organisation, where, two years ago, the CEO was paid £160,000. I maintain that, for whatever reason, the VC of Bath University was being overpaid.

  3. Posted 01/12/2017 at 09:32 | Permalink

    Breakwell was on a salary escalator: her remuneration package was high because she remained in post for a relatively long time. She was appointed VC at Bath back in 2001. The University basically performed reasonably well but not outstandingly. There was no pressure to look for a change and no sense that Breakwell had achieved what she had set out to accomplished and hence was looking for a fresh challenge. The clock ticked and as retirement approached the VC remained at the helm.

    CEO tenure is rising but the median for the world’s largest companies is still around 6 years and in the UK it is significantly lower at 5 years. Breakwell could be viewed as just an outlier: there will be a few VCs who don’t last longer than 1-2 years and a few who occupy the role for several times the median. In other words, there is nothing to see here: she is just in the tail of a distribution. Alternatively, she could be viewed as someone who over-stayed her time (or was allowed by Bath’s governors to stick around past her sell-by date).

  4. Posted 01/12/2017 at 10:36 | Permalink

    Interesting observations, but I have never argued that universities (or FTSE-100 companies for that matter) always get it right. You miss the essential point that it should not be the government that tells private bodies what to do. Already the government essentially sets pay for the entire public sector – still nearly 20% of employees – and, through the five different minimum wages it imposes, a large and growing proportion of private sector workers. In total probably about a third of all workers have their pay controlled by politicians. Do you think it is a good idea to extend this?
    I would actually argue that the Head of Slough Borough Council should be paid more than £160k too. But at least Slough BC is unequivocally in the public sector. Universities are not, and to make VCs and their universities have to suck up to the boss of the Office for Students (an ex-politician, of course) is the surest way to undermine our broadly successful higher education sector.

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