DUNDEE University agreed to pay its new principal a £40,000 “disruption allowance” to help him move from his job in the north of England.

Professor Andrew Atherton’s relocation package, pushed through by the university’s governing body, is separate from a remuneration deal worth around £300,000.

Scottish Tory MSP Bill Bowman said: “The many students at Dundee University having difficulty making ends meet could be concerned at the amount of cash that is being awarded to their new principal. It is very concerning that throughout the higher education sector there appears to be an increasing pay gap between staff and those at the very highest of the organisation."

The university, which has around 17,000 students, recorded income of around £246.6m in 2018, of which more than 30% came from the publicly-funded Scottish Funding Council.

Atherton, who was deputy vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, was announced in July as the successor to outgoing principal Sir Pete Downes, who retired.

The new principal, an expert on enterprise policy and China, said at the time he was "excited and honoured" to take on the post and started early this year.

However, the university has been criticised over the relocation package that helped entice him to Dundee.

A minute of the university’s remuneration committee from November considered a paper on the package, noting that the first £8,000 would be paid to Atherton without the deduction of tax, which the document said is in line with HMRC rules.

It added that a further “gross amount” of £40,000 would be paid to the principal after his appointment, as a one-off “disruption allowance”.

The minute stated that, following deductions, this payment would amount to a net sum of around £17,000: “Members agreed that the use of an explicit disruption allowance should be exceptional to this appointment. The university’s standard rules with regard to repayment in the event of leaving the university’s service within the first two years of appointment would apply to both amounts (the £8k and the £40k).”

A “lessons learned” review was also agreed by the committee, as was a commitment to review policies in light of any recommendations. The University Court ratified the deal.

Although the institution's “standard relocation package” amounts to one month’s gross salary, higher levels can be offered on a case-by-case basis, and Atherton’s deal is more generous.

A earlier meeting of the remuneration committee also discussed “two possible scenarios” for Atherton’s pay and pensions deal.

The first, based on him remaining in the pension scheme, was for a package of £295,000 a year, of which £250,000 would be base salary.

If he chose to withdraw from membership of the pension scheme before starting at the university, the second option was for a salary of £270,000 which, on top of life cover, would take the deal to £275,650.

The deal struck was for a £250,000 salary plus pension contributions which took the overall remuneration package to £298,000.

In 2018, it emerged that the new principal of Edinburgh University, Peter Mathieson, had benefited from a £26,000 package to help him make the move from Hong Kong

The sum went towards hiring an “international removal firm” to manage the packing, freighting and delivery of his furniture and possessions, which included two pets.

Mary Senior, the Scotland official for the University and College Union, said: “These details once again underline the arbitrary nature of principals’ pay and perks in our universities. Staff at Dundee University will be wondering why their new principal is getting a £40k 'disruption allowance' on top of a quarter of a million pound salary for moving 230 miles to a job he applied to do, when they are expected to accept a pay offer below RPI. These sorts of decisions make it more difficult for us to make the case for much needed improved public funding for our universities in Scotland.”

A spokesperson for Dundee University said: “In recruiting our new Principal, the university offered a competitive package which was approved by Court, our governing body. Court membership includes university staff, lay members, students and union representatives.”