A SENIOR figure at one of Scotland’s leading universities has defended highly paid principals and suggested that institutions could struggle to fill top posts if salaries do not rise even further.
Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee today, Professor Stuart Monro, vice convener of Edinburgh University’s court, said he was “concerned” that the salaries of principals, some of whom earn £250,000 a year, had not increased over the past few years.
Asked if the principal of a university should be paid more than the Prime Minister, Prof Monro said his own university would struggle to find a “top-class” leader on the salary currently paid to David Cameron.
Prof Monro was one of three senior university figures addressing the committee on behalf of the Committee of Scottish Chairs. The group had already caused controversy by suggesting it was “unnecessary” to introduce legislation to cap tuition fees at £9,000 a year for rest of UK (RUK) students studying at Scottish universities, effectively allowing institutions to charge even more.
Asked by SNP MSP Joan McAlpine if a university principal should be paid more than the Prime Minister’s £142,500 salary, Prof Munro said he was in “no position to judge” what the Prime Minister should be paid.
But he added: “Over the past four years there’s been no increases in the salary of the principal of Edinburgh University. It creates concerns for me because somewhere down the line we’re going to have to appoint a new principal. I’m not sure if we would be able to get a top-class principal on the salary we pay the prime minister.”
Edinburgh University’s principal Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea receives a £227,000 salary, making him one of the highest paid principals in Scotland. The highest paid are the principals of Glasgow and Strathclyde, who both earn £250,000.
Speaking after the committee meeting, Ms McAlpine said Prof Monro’s response showed university chairs did not “inhabit the same planet as the rest of us”.
She added: “It’s a bit rich that they are effectively saying they should be able to charge students more than £9,000 a year, but that £250,000 a year is not quite enough for their principal.
“A lot of people are sceptical about principals’ salaries a time when things are really tough for students and ordinary staff. That is one of the reasons we’re trying to change the governance of higher education.”
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “Since the recession, universities have moved to show restraint shown in terms of senior pay increases. A comprehensive survey of all universities in Scotland showed the average increase of Principals’ salaries, and that of their senior management teams, last year was around one per cent. Many senior teams have declined bonuses.”
A spokesman for Edinburgh University said its principal was “acutely aware of the need for restraint over public sector pay” and had refused a pay rise in each of the last four years.
Meanwhile, following a debate in the Scottish Parliament yesterday, MSPs backed a motion by education secretary Mike Russell that access to higher education should be “based on ability to learn, not ability to pay”, backing a commitment not to introduce “upfront or backdoor tuition fees”.
Scottish Labour had called for an independent commission on higher education to examine the affordability of free tuition.
Hugh Henry, Scottish Labour’s education spokesman, said: “We offered to have an open and honest debate and work on a cross-party basis to tackle the challenges we face on further and higher education. Instead, the SNP rejected this in favour of the status quo.”