By Tania Chakraborti
Durham University’s Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge has been removed from the committee responsible for setting his own controversial £231,000 annual salary.
The decision was formalised on the 19th December at the University Council and made clear this month by Students’ Union President Megan Croll, in an announcement on the Students’ Union website.
The decision to remove Professor Corbridge from Remuneration Committee, which also decides salaries for the University Executive and professors, comes amid protest last year surrounding his pay.
The University’s Terms of Reference outlines the function of the Remuneration Committee as being to “determine the framework or broad policy for the remuneration of the Vice-Chancellor, of other members of the University Executive, of professors, and of equivalent level senior posts remunerated within the Grade 10 pay range.
“No member of University staff shall be involved in any decisions affecting their own remuneration.”
Regarding Vice-Chancellor pay specifically, the Terms of Reference state the “remuneration and terms of conditions of the Vice-Chancellor shall be determined by the other members of the Committee in his absence.” However, this new decision means that the Vice-Chancellor will no longer participate on the Committee.
Speaking exclusively to Palatinate, Ms Croll said: “Given the national media attention around Vice-Chancellor’s pay, which rightly highlights the responsibility of Universities, especially as fees rise, to be accountable and thorough with their resources, I raised this issue with our VC, Professor Corbridge, at the very beginning of the academic year.
“At that time, he was a member of remuneration committee where his salary was set.
“I am told that he chose never to be in the room when his own salary was discussed at remuneration committee, but removing him from the committee provides assurance that this cannot be the case at any point in the future, and means that his successors will also not be members of the committee.
“We’re lucky to have a VC [Vice- Chancellor] that was very reasonable about this issue and was in agreement that he should not be on the committee.
“The decision then moved through the University’s committees, and the final decision was made at University Council on 19th December.”
She added she was “very pleased that the Vice Chancellor is no longer a member of Remuneration Committee and is therefore unable to discuss his own salary with the body that decides it.
“I now aim to fill this space on the committee with a student representative to make sure that the students who pay so much to attend this University have a say about how much the VC and other senior staff are paid.”
When asked by Palatinate for an elaboration on the issue of remuneration and why the decision to remove the Vice-Chancellor for the Committee had been made, Jennifer Sewel, University Secretary for Durham University stated:
“The University’s Remuneration Committee consists of independent external advisers with wide-ranging professional backgrounds.
“The terms of reference and membership of the Remuneration Committee are reviewed regularly to ensure they are in line with relevant good governance guidance and with practice elsewhere in the sector.”
The news comes a few months after national controversy surrounding University management pay when in September a host of Vice-Chancellors were forced to defend their high salaries after the government introduced new plans to bring “transparency and openness” to higher education. In a one-to-one interview with Palatinate last September, NUS President Shakira Martin said Professor Corbridge was “definitely” overpaid.
Students at Durham University have responded positively to the news of Professor Corbridge’s removal from the committee.
Priyal Agrawal, a second year student from St Chad’s college, said: “This move comes at a time when students, as shown by the ‘Ripped Off’ Campaign, are outraged by the way that the University uses its funds.
“This is a welcome change which will hopefully make the Committee a more objective body, and provide students with more faith in University senior management.”
Emily Marten, a fourth year Hild Bede student, added: “Being on the committee that decides your own salary sounds like a joke, but it was the reality for Durham’s Vice-Chancellor until just recently, and is a similar trend at other universities.
“The amount of money they are paid is unjustifiable, and shows just how out of touch with students they are.
“If only we could have more of a voice on, say, accommodation fees, yet they continue to increase seemingly regardless of what students say or do.”
Rhiannon Morris, a second year student at St Mary’s, expressed that “the decision to remove Stuart Corbridge […] is one I think of as both just and fair.
“When one considers the extortionate tuition fee rates that Durham students are currently paying, as well as college accommodation costs, his fee seems grossly disproportionate and inappropriate.
“Not only is it problematic for Corbridge to be put in the position wherein he would have opportunity to influence his own salary because it leaves little room for unbiased consideration, it also allows senior positions in the University to potentially take advantage of financial resources.”
Photograph: Durham University