Oxford University’s vice chancellor has defended her £350,000 salary by saying it is ‘very different’ to the pay packages of footballers and bankers.
Louise Richardson said that while she gets paid much more than ordinary academics, her salary is still much lower than many in the private sector.
She also branded politicians ‘mendacious’ and ‘tawdry’ for criticising university fat cat pay, saying their comments were ‘damaging’ to the sector.
Professor Richardson added that vice chancellors operate in the ‘global marketplace’ and that many other senior leaders in the US get paid much more.
Oxford University’s vice chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, has defended her salary, which is currently £350,000
Her comments, made in a speech today, come after the Daily Mail revealed more than £100,000 was spent on her £2 million grace-and-favour home in Oxford before she moved in.
In her old role, as principal of St Andrews in Scotland, she was also criticised over a £1 million makeover for her official residence there.
Critics have said it is inappropriate a vice chancellor to enjoy such lavish pay and perks when student fees have gone up again this autumn from £9,000 to £9,250 per year.
But speaking at the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit in London, Professor Richardson said: ‘I think it’s completely mendacious by politicians to suggest that vice-chancellors have used the £9,000 fee to enhance their own salaries.
‘We know that the £9,000 fees were a substitute for the withdrawal of government funding.
‘My own salary is £350,000. That’s a very high salary compared to our academics who I think are, junior academics especially, very lowly paid.
‘Compared to a footballer, it looks very different, compared to a banker it looks very different.
‘But actually, we operate, as I keep saying, in a global marketplace.’
She said that figures show that three years ago, 40 heads of American universities earned more than a million dollars, including eight public universities.
At least eight earned more than two million dollars.
Professor Richardson, who joined Oxford last year, said she has spent most of her career in the United States, while her predecessor, Professor Andrew Hamiltom, left to join New York University.
King’s College London recruited its president and principal, Professor Ed Byrne, from Australia, she added.
‘I think this is just the politicians, and I wish they wouldn’t do it, not because it’s embarrassing for me or my colleagues but because it’s damaging,’ she said.
‘Why would you want to try and damage what is one of the most successful aspects of the British economy?
‘One of the most admired facets of the British economy is the quality of our education, compared to the size of this country, the calibre of university education is something that should be celebrated on a daily basis and not just trying to drag it down by making spurious correlations between fees and salaries.’
Chairman of the education select committee Robert Halfon says if students want an experience they can go to a theme park, arguing universities requiring huge loans should lead to well-paid jobs
She blamed much of the criticism of senior pay on MPs and journalists after a string of revelations about excess in higher education emerged over the summer.
‘We have been getting a rough ride lately, and certainly some mendacious media and tawdry politicians seem determined to do their utmost to damage one of the most successful – and globally admired – sectors of the British economy,’ she said.
Robert Halfon, the chairman of the education select committee, recently said students should expect value for money from universities – including the prospect of good employment at the end of their degree.
But Professor Richardson called that ‘extraordinary’ and added: ‘It seems to me that Mr Halfon has completely missed the point of going to university, but unfortunately he is not alone.’
Mr Halfon responded yesterday: ‘She may think that it is OK for vice chancellors to live like Tudor monks at the time of Henry VIII in grace and favour “palaces” and may argue that universities are just about the experience.
‘But if people want an experience, they can go to a theme park.
‘What people really want when they go to a university, especially if they take out a huge loan, is to know that actually at the end of it they will get a highly skilled well-paid job.
‘There is nothing unreasonable about making that case.
‘There is nothing tawdry about making that case.’
Professor Richardson’s pay packet at Oxford rises to £410,000 when pension is included, while 450 other senior staff are also paid more than £100,000.
Last month, David Palfreyman, bursar of New College Oxford, branded the vice chancellor’s salary ‘grossly excessive’ and said it was hard to see a ‘value for money return’ from the escalating pay of senior leaders.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson has previously issued a call for universities to show restraint on pay, warning there should not be an ‘endless upward ratchet’ of salaries.
Universities minister Jo Johnson says there should be greater guarantees for students who study at institutions where the vice chancellor’s salary outstrips that of the prime minister
In a speech in July, he warned: ‘When students and taxpayers invest so heavily in our higher education system, value for money should be guaranteed. Yet, I am still hearing students say that their course is poor quality.
‘This is not good enough, especially when some vice chancellors take home a wage that in some cases exceeds that of the Prime Minister.’
University heads received an average pay package, including benefits, of £277,834 in 2015/16, according to recent analysis by the University and College Union (UCU).
The highest-paid vice chancellor in the UK is Dame Glynis Breakwell, who earns £451,000 including benefits to head up the University of Bath.
Former Labour education minister, Lord Adonis, has called on her to resign over the pay package, while four MPs have resigned in protest from the university’s advisory body.
Last month, the Mail told how Craig Calhoun, the former vice chancellor of the London School of Economics, was paid £1.7 million over four years despite it scoring just a bronze in official teaching ranks.
Meanwhile, Southampton’s Professor Don Nutbeam received £252,000 as ‘compensation for loss of office’ – or golden goodbye – before stepping down at the end of September 2015.
Following the controversies, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bolton, George Holmes, who owns a Bentley and earns £222,000, caused uproar by claiming university bosses are not paid enough compared to peers in other countries.