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By Sarah-Louise Fernandez
Oxford and other top universities have almost doubled expenditure on senior staff in the past decade, whilst cutting back on student support, according to a group opposed to tuition fee rises.
A study by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) revealed that Russell Group universities spent a total of £382 million on staff earning over £100,000 last year, twice as much as in 2003-04.
Oxford was found to have the third-highest spending on top-paid staff, handing them more than £35 million in total last year. Only Imperial College and UCL spent more.
The group claims that high spending on senior staff is forcing universities to make cuts in other areas.
“At most universities we’ve seen year-on-year increases in student fees and hall fees combined with real-terms pay cuts and attacks on pensions for lecturers and cleaners alike.
“With the total cuts to UK universities being at 3.4% these figures are extremely worrying. It is entirely possible that a significant proportion of the cuts could be mitigated by restraint at the top,” said the report.
The Russell Group said the report failed to account for inflation and did not include all senior staff pay. A spokesperson said that the NCAFC’s claim that spending on top staff had doubled “is not accurate”.
Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said: “Russell Group universities continue to improve their student support packages. In 2009-10 English Russell Group universities spent £82.2 million of their extra fee income on bursaries. By 2015-16, our universities will be spending £153.7million on bursaries, scholarships and other student financial support as well as a further £28.8million on outreach activities.”
She defended generous pay deals for the most important staff, adding: “Our Vice-Chancellors and other senior staff lead complex multi-million pound organisations that succeed on a global stage.
“Thirty six US universities pay their heads more than $1 million (£650,000) and the average salary for the heads of Australia’s Group of Eight research-intensive universities is over £635,000, vastly exceeding the pay of their UK counterparts.”
The report and its findings have generated debate among students.
Kevin Feeney, Co-Chair of Oxford University Labour Club, said it was “unseemly” that expenditure on senior staff has doubled while many employees still earn less than the living wage, while Oliver Park, Co-Chair of Oxford University Liberal Democrats, said it was important that a balance was struck between attracting the best staff and saving money.
He added that high salaries for senior staff “shouldn’t be a problem as long as they can be justified and can be shown to have benefited students.”
Ellie Wilson, a second year at St Hugh’s, said that the increase in expenditure on executive staff “looks like a response to the increased competitiveness between universities”, and pointed out that “it’s very difficult to compare like executive staff for like across universities”.
A spokesperson for the University pointed out that many of the highest paid workers were in clinical positions. “It is likely that many of these posts will have part of their salary paid by the NHS. The majority of these salaries would be under £100k without the NHS contribution.”
She continued: “Oxford is the biggest research provider in the UK and is probably the most complex institutionally. It must remain globally competitive, and one of the University’s overarching strategic objectives is ‘to attract, develop and retain academic staff of the highest international calibre and make the University and its colleges employers of choice for all staff in the international, national and local environments’.”
The report coincides with the national NUS conference, which is being held in Sheffield from 24th to 26th April. The NCAFC will be participating in this year’s conference and expenditure on executive staff will be one of the issues up for discussion. The NCAFC website says that they “will be promoting policy, standing candidates, distributing literature, organising meetings and caucusing regularly to organise [their] intervention.”