A survey by The Herald reveals that, in 2008-09, Scotland’s 18 university principals received an average salary of more than £225,000 -- up by nearly three times the rate of inflation.
Their staff have currently been offered a 0.5% increase.
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The total paid in principals’ salaries is now fast approaching £4 million and the increase represents an additional £284,000 taken out of the sector’s annual budget since the previous year.
The highest-paid principal is Professor Duncan Rice, from Aberdeen University, whose salary package -- including benefits in kind and pensions contributions -- has risen by 17% from £256,000 to £299,000.
The next-highest-paid principal is Professor Sir Tim O’Shea, from Edinburgh University,
who is paid a total salary package of £286,000 after an increase of 7%. Professor Anton Muscatelli, the principal of Glasgow University, is the third-highest-paid with a combined salary package of £283,000.
The largest percentage increase was 17%, awarded to Mr Rice and also to Seona Reid, director of Glasgow School of Art, whose salary rose to £159,000.
Not all principals have accepted above-inflation rises. Professor Pamela Gillies, the principal of Glasgow Caledonian University, took a pay cut this year.
“Although Glasgow Caledonian was performing well, the executive team chose not to accept a performance-related element of their salary in light of the prevailing economic climate,” said a spokeswoman.
Since the Scottish Budget in November 2007, universities have been lobbying the Scottish Government hard for additional resources, complaining that the public money given to them is not sufficient to retain their competitive edge.
University principals also said the settlement damaged the ability of their institutions to deliver Government priorities to build future prosperity through innovation and skills. Although universities are run as charities, at least half of their money comes from the taxpayer.
Last night, lecturers’ unions attacked the rises, saying universities were already talking about minimal rises for staff next year.
Tony Axon, parliamentary officer for UCU Scotland, a union representing lecturers, said: “It beggars belief that, once again, we are seeing principals accepting huge pay increases at a time when they are imposing a tiny increase on staff which essentially amounts to a cut in salary.”
However, a spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, defended the increases.
“Universities in Scotland between them are a £2.5bn industry and less than half of our total income comes from the public purse,” he said.
“We earn over a billion pounds in cash by selling services to companies and private individuals. These salary rises were agreed before the current crisis in public finances and were not out of line with comparable pay settlements at that time.”