Durham University Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart Corbridge, was the first Vice-Chancellor in the UK to have their salary bumped up to its pre-Covid-19 level, according to information obtained in a Freedom of Information request by The Times.
Professor Corbridge took a 10% pay cut during the early stages of the pandemic. In July 2020, the Vice-Chancellor’s salary was boosted from £245,700 back to its pre-pandemic amount of £273,000.
Data obtained in a Freedom of Information request by Palatinate showed that at this time, 884 staff at Durham University were on furlough.
Durham University was followed by Newcastle University and the Royal College of Art, where the Vice-Chancellors’ salaries were returned to normal in August 2020.
The University of Cambridge is the most recent university to have boosted the salary of their Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, to its pre-pandemic level in April 2021.
Commenting on the Vice-Chancellor’s remuneration, a Durham University spokesperson clarified that “Durham’s Vice-Chancellor pay is determined and published by the Remuneration Committee, whose members are independent of the University Executive. It is also published as part of the annual Financial Statements.”
In an exclusive interview with Palatinate, when asked if he believes that executives at universities are overpaid, the Vice-Chancellor said: “I think it’s for the University to decide where the pay levels are set, and for others to commentate on whether we’re paid at an appropriate level.”
Commenting on the Vice-Chancellor’s salary, the Durham branch of the University and College Union (DUCU) said: “DUCU condemns the systemic inequalities that inflated salaries for senior managers of universities introduces.
“These inflated salaries, coming at a time when jobs for the rank and file are being slashed and removed, when our workloads are ever increasing, are a slap in the face to the people who truly make the University function, and are yet another symptom of the increasing marketisation of education.”
The University introduced voluntary measures for staff in a bid to recover £10 million worth of pandemic-related financial losses. These included a five to 20% pay cut for a minimum of three months, a minimum 10% reduction in hours, voluntary severance, and early retirement.
All members of the University Executive Committee volunteered to reduce their salaries from August 2020 as part of the scheme. It is unclear whether the Vice-Chancellor’s salary was reduced again after July 2020.
Predicting a significant reduction in international student recruitment due to Covid-19 restrictions and the prospect of online education, the University also reduced non-staffing costs and instated a freeze on hiring non-essential staff to protect against income loss.
However, the Vice-Chancellor assured Palatinate that the University is “in a better financial position now than we thought we might have been a year ago”.
According to The Times, about 1,900 staff have been made redundant via voluntary and compulsory redundancies, and the ending of fixed-term contracts, since March last year at the universities that reinstated Vice-Chancellor pay.
Joanne Race, the University’s Director of Human Resources and Organisation Development, said: “Durham University has remained open, although operating differently, throughout the pandemic. The health and safety of our community is our priority and we have carefully considered how best to protect our staff and the University.
“Like many other HEIs and following consultation with the Trade Unions, we decided to engage with the Government’s Temporary Job Retention Scheme, in accordance with Government guidance. This decision was not taken lightly.
“The University worked within the rules and the spirit of the Job Retention Scheme, which was designed to protect roles. All staff who were furloughed continued to receive full pay and all have now returned to work.
“As the majority of services remained open for business we used the Scheme in a proportionate and limited manner. This included accessing the Scheme only where there was no possibility of temporarily redeploying colleagues to work elsewhere in the University.”
Durham UCU said: “The Vice Chancellor lives on another planet compared to most workers at the University.
“His salary is worth over five times the salary of most lecturers – for many estates and professional services staff, his salary is 10 times higher.
“The fact that the University management increased his salary whilst many were on furlough and worried for their jobs speaks volumes about their attitude towards staff.
“UCU advocates a policy of a 10:1 maximum pay differential, meaning that the highest paid in the university would earn no more than 10 times as much as the lowest. For Durham, that would equate to a salary of £164,200.”
Image: Durham University