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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
MPs have accused vice chancellors of “filling their boots” with large salary hikes – and the head of the Treasury says he “tends to agree” with them.
Sir Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary at the Treasury, has promised the Commons Public Accounts Committee to “go away and reflect” on what the Treasury might be able to do about vice-chancellors’ pay – described as “very, very high” by Committee chair Margaret Hodge.
In its report on the Government’s accounts published today (January 7) the Committee expresses concern about high salaries for senior staff in the education sector.
“The Treasury has been slow in identifying and addressing seemingly excessive pay awards for some roles in the education sector, such as university vice-chancellors and super-heads,” says Margaret Hodge.
Minutes of the committee’s evidence session with Sir Nicholas during its inquiry into the Government’s handling of the public finances, show Labour MPs putting him under pressure over VCs salaries. Hodge said universities were funded mainly through the taxpayer through student loans and research grants.
“There are huge salaries at vice-chancellor level, given the nature of the institutions they are running. No control at all, no transparency,” she said.
Nick Smith, the Labour MP for Blaenau Gwent, told Sir Nicholas: “These people in these bodies are filling their boots and we must get a grip because what is happening at the highest levels in these large higher education institutions is terrible. They are overpaid, so what are you going to do about it?”
Sir Nicholas said university leaders were not necessarily overpaid because they were “competing with Harvard and such like”.
But Hodge said it was not about competition - vice-chancellors salaries were “very, very high for the nature of the institution they are governing and they are primarily funded through the taxpayer”.
Sir Nicholas told her: “I tend to agree with you,” adding: “Our first priority is to put our own house in order. We have gone through a number of issues which we are going to be very focused on in the run-up to the next spending review. I will go away and reflect on what, if anything, we can do about the university sector.”
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