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Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations for the Council for Higher Education in Art & Design (CHEAD), reviews a week of higher education news in which concerns emerged over universities’ financial stability due to Covid-19 and the impact of the crisis on students.
A growing number of higher education conferences and events are being postponed or moved online in response to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Amid predictions that higher education will be changed forever by the current pandemic, Professor James Miller, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University, suggests the innovative ways the sector is responding to the crisis will make it even more valued in the future.
The current crisis has underlined the critical role played by the UK’s experts and researchers and the institutions supporting them, as well as the need for collaboration between them, says Dr Joe Marshall, Chief Executive of the National Centre for Universities and Business.
As a growing number of universities move teaching and assessment online in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the University of Derby is holding a virtual conference which aims to support staff in making the transition.
New guidance on vice chancellors’ pay, covering transparency, publication of pay differentials and membership of remuneration committees, is to be drawn up by the Committee of University Chairs (CUC).
The move follows universities minister Jo Johnson’s call for a “remuneration code” to be developed.
Vice chancellor pay levels have been the subject of intense media attention in recent months, with headlines conflating “fat cat” salaries with the level of tuition fee debt students now graduate with.
Mr Johnson told the Universities UK conference earlier this month, that there should be restraint on pay across the sector and “transparency and openness” about the levels being awarded.
The CUC, a membership organisation, will hold wide ranging discussions on the controversial issue at its plenary next month, which is expected to be attended by about 90 chairs.
John Rushforth, the executive secretary of the CUC, told HEi-know: "If the members decide at the plenary for the need for more guidance, we will put together a technical group, drawing on the expertise of registrars and HR directors, and produce a draft by Christmas that can be consulted on in the New Year.
"I can't predict what the content will be but we will look at transparency and how institutions might best put information on VCs pay into the public domain, and I think there could be some development work on that.”
Data will be presented at the plenary showing a significant range of pay multiples within the sector. The current sector average of the ratio of VCs’ pay to the average of their staff is just over six, but the range across institutions varies from two to 17.
"Pay multiples, particularly chief executive pay versus the median of all staff, is an interesting number to look at because you can start to compare within the sector and across other sectors," said Rushworth.
He also indicated that vice chancellors' membership of remuneration committees was likely to be one of the issues discussed.
Mr Johnson said in his UUK speech that universities should be able to justify any salaries that are above £150,000 – the amount paid to the Prime Minister.
Mr Rushforth said that the language around the debate was changing, moving from focussing on transparency to justification.
"It presents institutions with an opportunity to put senior pay in the context of just how complicated and challenging a business we are all in and how much value we add to society in general and students in particular,” he said.
"If you have a market justification, because for example international institutions have approached your VC, or you have evidence of exceptional performance compared to other institutions, and you think therefore a higher pay level is appropriate, you should be able to explain that to your own board and the public and if you can't you need to ask yourself why you are doing it."
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