“Another MP has resigned from his role at the University of Bath in protest against its vice-chancellor’s £451,000 pay package.
Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West, became the fourth politician to step down from the university’s court, a statutory body representing the interests of the university stakeholders, in protest over Dame Glynis Breakwell’s pay deal. His resignation on Tuesday afternoon follows those of two Labour colleagues Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, and David Drew, MP for Stroud,. as well as Andrew Murrison, Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire.
As the mounting resignations prompted former Labour education minister Andrew Adonis to call for Breakwell to stand down, Jones said: “Students in my constituency are paying increasingly high tuition fees, with many families helping their children out with the costs associated with going to university.
“Vice-chancellors pay needs to be set within the context of value for money. And students take on excessive debt to get a good education, not to pay bloated executive pay.”
The issue of pay was raised by Lord Adonis in an article for the Guardian earlier this month.
University vice-chancellors are paid too much, says Lord Adonis
Murrison resigned from the university court last week, saying university bosses were “looking increasingly like a self-serving cartel”.
The series of resignations also puts the squeeze on a government already facing pressure to investigate the high salaries awarded to vice-chancellors, amid mounting accusations that students’ tuition fees are being used to inflate the pay packets of senior management.
McCarthy and Drew said Breakwell’s salary, as well as those of senior staff, could not be justified when students were taking on debts of £60,000 to pay fees.
McCarthy said her resignation was about “sending out a signal”.
She said: “I’ve been concerned for quite some time about the level of vice-chancellors’ pay; it’s the fact it’s now coupled with increasing pressures on students. It’s not just that student fees have gone up to £9,000 a year, but the interest they’re being charged on those has gone up to about 6%.
“And I know that ordinary academic staff who are on pretty modest incomes have generally had their pay held back to a 1% pay rise. We’ve got it at local government level, where you’ve got chief executives that are on several hundred thousand a year, quite a few of their senior officers are on more than the prime minister, and yet you’re holding back pay rises for the bin men.
“I think it sends out a very poor signal to the students if the impression they’re given is they are the ones bearing the financial burden.”
Subsequent to the resignations, Adonis said a pay reduction for Breakwell would not be enough to solve the problem.
“The crisis at the university of Bath can only now be resolved one way, which is by the resignation of the vice-chancellor,” he told the Guardian. “It’s clear that she’s progressively losing the support of her court and council, and for very good reason. Her pay and conduct has been unacceptable.”
The peer has previously called for an inquiry in the House of Lords and criticised the “serious controversy” of salary increases awarded to Breakwell, along with benefits such as “a large house in the historic centre of Bath”, and non-executive directorships she holds.
Jones said on Tuesday that he agreed with Adonis that government should undertake an inquiry into public sector executive pay. “I have therefore resigned from my ex officio position on the court of Bath University as a sign of my support for such a review,” he said.
While Breakwell is top of the salary list, the controversy is not unique to Bath. Vice-chancellors received an average salary package of £277,834 in the last academic year, more than six times the average pay of university staff.
A report released by University and College Union (UCU) in February revealed that 23 British universities had increased the pay packages of their vice-chancellors by 10% or more in 2015-16. Fifty-five universities paid their heads more than £300,000, with 11 vice-chancellors earning more than £400,000 a year.
Breakwell’s package was an 11% rise on the previous year, despite a 1.1% cap on pay for non-managerial staff across the higher education sector.
The Higher Education and Funding council for England (Hefce), the universities charities watchdog, has been asked to examine whether Breakwell’s salary is in line with charitable duties and responsibilities. It has said it would investigate “governance in relation to the remuneration committee of the university”.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has told universities that in future they will have to justify exceptionally high salaries.
A University of Bath spokesperson said: “We are providing Hefce with all the information they have requested including in relation to meetings of university court. The university does not intend to comment further on these matters until such time as Hefce have concluded their investigation.”