HYPOCRISY and greed were the charges levelled at Scotland's university principals this week after a trawl of their 2012/13 accounts by The Herald revealed some eye-watering pay increases.
The figures showed the largest hike was 24% for Professor Steve Chapman, from Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, who accepted a £20,000 rise in his salary and a £20,000 bonus to bring his overall package, excluding pensions contributions, to £210,000.
Other hefty increases included the 11% awarded to Professor Dame Joan Stringer, the outgoing principal of Edinburgh Napier University, which brought her basic salary to £232,000, while both Professor Seamus McDaid, from West of Scotland University, and Petra Wend, principal of Queen Margaret University, in Edinburgh, took an 8% pay rise.
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The increases are particularly galling for academic unions such as UCU Scotland because they are currently taking strike action in protest over a pay offer of 1% - although some staff will see a total rise of 4% as they move up the pay scales.
But there are extenuating circumstances.
The sector is, without doubt, one of the most important to the future economic success of Scotland, generating £6.7 billion for the Scottish economy in 2011/12, as well as exports worth £1.3bn. Although the salaries quoted sound exorbitant - and dwarf the £140,000 paid to First Minister Alex Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron - they are well below those in other leading international business sectors such as the Scotch whisky industry. For example, former Diageo chief executive Paul Walsh pocketing a basic salary of £1.28 million in 2013, as well as an annual bonus of £1.25m and a further £12.3m in long-term bonuses based on the company's share price performance.
In addition, as our article on Monday pointed out, many of the principals did show restraint, with nine of the 16 receiving a below-inflation increase last year and two - Professor Louise Richardson at St Andrews and Professor Pamela Gillies at Glasgow Caledonian University - taking no increase at all.
However, there has been a concerted drive in recent years to obtain more accountability over the salaries of principals which has been resisted by institutions. In 2012, a review chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, principal of Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen - who accepted just 1.5% - called for the abolition of bonuses. It also recommended that university remuneration committees that set the pay of principals should include members of staff and students to increase transparency. However, a code of governance later dismissed the suggestion.
It is not, therefore, the salaries in themselves that create accusations of greed and hypocrisy - and rising levels of resentment against senior managers - but the seemingly arbitrary nature of increases which have no bearing either on the state of public finances or on the levels of pay offered to staff, many of whom are just as responsible for the success of the sector as the principals.