KEVIN McKenna is surely unduly harsh on university principals and their well-deserved stratospheric salaries ("All aboard the Caledonian public sector gravy train", The Herald, December 30).

His comment that “it’s never been universally apparent why the task of being a university principal is deserving of such huge financial reward” surely fails to recognise what is now their true role and purpose: to transform crusty old educational institutions into thrusting powerhouses for global capital and finance, whilst keeping recalcitrant staff with old-fashioned ideas of public good under the cosh.

By these criteria they have succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of those in whose service they now labour so effectively. With the help of, for example, the Scottish Government’s Easy Access IP scheme (a condition of university funding), publicly funded intellectual property generated in universities can now be given away free to global companies which so cleverly avoid paying UK taxes.

Similarly by stating that universities “remain all but closed to children from disadvantaged communities”, Mr McKenna fails to understand that this policy is non-discriminatory within Scotland: figures from Audit Scotland show the number of EU students in Scotland in the last decade rose by 97 per cent; non-EU international students rose by 58 per cent; those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose by 10 per cent. All of the above pay substantial fees.

In the same period, Scottish students in Scottish universities fell from 75 per cent to 66 per cent of the total. According to admissions body UCAS, applicants from England are now 15 per cent more likely to receive an offer from a Scottish university than applicants from Scotland.

So it’s not only poor Scottish students who are being progressively excluded from Scottish universities; it’s all Scots. This is due to the stubborn refusal of the Scottish Government to allow student loan fees allowing Scottish Principals’ salaries to remain internationally competitive.

Finally, Mr McKenna suggests that: “Several principals of universities have backgrounds in economic theory”, and that they “fail to recognise….. the benefits that accrue to a society that genuinely seeks to unlock the potential of its largest social group.”

Wrong again, Mr McKenna.

The role of academic economists is to provide plausible explanations as to why finance capital is omniscient and that banks can never fail.

One of the principals Mr McKenna cites – a banking economist – when awarding an honorary degree to the then “Sir” Fred Goodwin (in 20002) described him as “one of the most successful business leaders in the UK; the Royal Bank as “one of (Scotland’s) major corporate success stories”; and stated “having seen for himself how banking can go so spectacularly wrong, Fred Goodwin decided to show the business world how to do things properly”.

Pace Mr McKenna, isn’t it abundantly “apparent why the task of being a university principal is deserving of such huge financial reward” – and utterly clear why such academic leadership is surely worth at least £329,000 per annum?

Dr John O'Dowd,

3 Downfield Gardens, Bothwell.

THANK you to Kevin McKenna for an incisive and long-overdue examination of current public sector wage disparities.

Hugely over-inflated salaries and perks for university principals for what is essentially a "ceremonial" role are at the expense of tangible support for students in areas such as mental health, for which universities are increasingly under-resourced. In a pastoral sense at least, "getting it right for every child" has been a well intentioned, philosophically sound, mantra in many Scottish schools over the last decade but too many universities and colleges appear to neglect their duty to support their students in pastoral as well as in academic terms. I'm sick to death of the "smoke and mirrors" fable that public bodies have to pay disproportionate wages to attract the brightest and best in their field. If the Scottish Government is serious about the re-distribution of wealth and social justice then offensively high salaries and pay outs to council leaders, University principals and their like must be terminated and the money saved then prioritised where it is desperately required.

Owen Kelly,

8 Dunvegan Drive, Stirling.