Research by the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) found total income in the higher education sector rose by 6.4 per cent in 2012-13, with almost 58 per cent coming from public money.
The union released the figures as its lecturer members prepare to take part in another round of industrial action over pay tomorrow, amid growing anger over salary increases awarded to senior management.
University staff have staged a series of walkouts in protest over the 1 per cent pay deal, which they say represents a 13 per cent cut in real terms since 2009.
Figures released by the University and College Union (UCU) in January showed that while lecturers’ pay has fallen, many highly paid principals took home double-digit salary increases last year.
According to the EIS analysis, the university sector made an overall operating surplus of £90 million in 2012-13. The union said 57.9 per cent of the sector’s combined income was from public sources, contradicting claims from Universities Scotland which it said were used to “justify inflation-busting pay increases enjoyed by some university principals”.
At the same time, the proportion of university expenditure spent on staff costs has continued to fall and is currently 55.8 per cent, the EIS said.
Larry Flanagan, general-secretary of the EIS, said: “This report is a substantial piece of work that lays bare the healthy financial position of higher education institutions in Scotland.
“At a time when lecturers are fighting for a fair pay rise, after years of pay restraint and declining real-term salaries, it is quite shocking to see evidence of the very healthy financial position of our universities – mostly built on public money.
“As pay at senior management level continues to soar, including some extremely generous packages paid to university principals, it is hard to see any justification for a continuing squeeze on lecturers’ pay.
“Lecturers are vital to the success of our higher education institutions and to the high-quality teaching and research that our universities are renowned for. It is time for a fair pay offer to be made to reward lecturing staff for the vital and valuable work that they do.”
UCU general-secretary Sally Hunt said: “Research shows that our universities continue to perform at the very highest levels on the global stage.
“If we don’t start properly rewarding staff in this country then international academics will understandably look elsewhere and our own staff may consider their options abroad.”
Commenting on the EIS report, a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said: “The percentage of total spend on staff pay may have decreased, but the EIS neglects to mention that, in the last five years alone, the staff wage bill in Scotland has increased by over £138m with the knock-on implications this has for pensions.
“It is right that the employers’ negotiating body is looking to manage these costs.
“It is, in our view, highly counterproductive for the unions to wilfully paint a misleading picture of universities’ financial condition as part of their tactics for negotiating pay.”