SCOTTISH university principals have been accused of "greed" after salaries for the post rose by up to 75 per cent over the past decade.

Analysis of university financial statements since 2007 show very significant rises in salary packages for the position at a time of public pay restraint.

The largest increase was at Strathclyde University, in Glasgow, where the salary and pensions package for the post of principal has increased by 76 per cent from £207,000 in 2007 to £366,000 in 2017.

The second largest increase was at the University of the Highlands and Islands, where the package has risen by 73 per cent from £134,000 to £232,000 - although the institution has been radically transformed in that period.

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The pay of principals rose by 66 per cent at Robert Gordon University, in Aberdeen, 63 per cent at Queen Margaret University, in Edinburgh, and 52 per cent at Glasgow School of Art.

The figures, which were revealed as staff at universities across the country take strike action in a bitter row over cuts to pensions, provoked an angry backlash from opposition politicians.

Although the increases do not relate directly to individual principals because post-holders have changed over the period, staff have received just 18 per cent over the same period.

Iain Gray, education spokesman for the Scottish Labour Party, described some of the increases as "completely disproportionate" and said legislation introduced to improve the running of universities was "failing".

"The Scottish Government claimed their governance Act would sort this out and that was one of the reasons Labour supported that legislation, but it is clearly failing," he said.

"Universities are autonomous institutions, but they receive billions of pounds of public funding and this kind of distortion in remuneration is unacceptable."

Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Greens, described the pay rises as "disgraceful" and called for salaries to be linked to those of the rest of the academic body.

"University principals are increasingly detached from the reality faced by their staff and students and the greed has to end," he said.

Liz Smith, education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservative Party, said universities were world class institutions and needed to attract the best candidates to the post of principal.

But she added: "It is also very clear that the public believes there is a moral issue at stake and that excessive rises at a time of economic restraint are unwelcome and unfair."

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Tavish Scott, education spokesman for the Scottish Liberal Democrat, called on universities to justify the salary increases.

The increases were also attacked by lecturers' unions and student leaders who described principals' pay as "out of control".

Although universities raise around half of their income from private sources such as tuition fees and research contracts they still receive more than £1 billion in public funding every year.

As such unions argue they should be subject the same level of pay restraint as others operating in the public sector.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers union, said: "University leaders who should be part of the academic community they lead seem to want to behave like chief executives of big businesses.

“Principals’ pay is out of control and staff will be staggered to see university principals getting pay hikes of more than seventy per cent over the last ten years."

However, Universities Scotland, which represents principals, said the higher education sector had been transformed in recent years with universities now amongst the world's best. They also argue changes to pension arrangements for senior staff make it difficult to compare salaries over the period.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: "We can appreciate that, when they lack context, some of these figures will appear very high, but where this is the case it will reflect substantial and specific growth in the remit and responsibilities expected of the role and the institution over the last decade.

"Over the last ten years there has been a change to the principal at almost every institution in Scotland so these figures do not reflect the growth of individuals’ remuneration.

"It is worth making it very clear that no principal has any role in decisions on his or her remuneration. Universities publish details of the pay of their principal and other senior staff on an annual basis because they are committed to transparency and good governance."

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A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are clear that we expect universities to exercise restraint in setting senior pay and senior pay packages should be in step with the salary, terms and conditions offered to other university staff.

"The Higher Education Governance Act did not introduce wage controls and the salary levels of principals are a matter for each university's governing body and remuneration committee.

"However, by ensuring trades unions and student representatives are on every university governing body, the Act means all voices on campus are heard during decisions on remuneration.”

Other sizeable increases include 44 per cent at Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, 33 per cent at Edinburgh University and 35 per cent at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Principals’ salaries 2007-2017