Union calls for more transparency on university pay

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The University and College Union (UCU) Scotland has claimed Scottish universities have broken promises made on transparency over principals' pay.

It said over two-thirds of universities refused to provide full minutes of the committee meetings where pay was set.

The union has called for the Scottish government to intervene.

Universities Scotland said remuneration committees' policies were set by the universities' governing bodies, which included staff and students.

UCU said it asked Scottish universities for copies of the minutes from their remuneration committees through a Freedom of Information request in 2014.

The remuneration committee is the body in a university tasked with setting the principal's pay.

Of the 17 universities, UCU said that four refused to send any minutes at all and eight sent back "heavily redacted minutes obscuring key information."

Mary Senior, a UCU Scotland official, said this made "a mockery of claims by Universities Scotland that Scottish institutions are setting the benchmark for transparency."

"The time has come for the Scottish government to legislate to reform higher education governance and ensure that our universities are more democratic, representative and transparent," she added.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, the body representing university chiefs, said the detail of principals' remuneration is published annually by all institutions.

"In 2013 [we] put in place a mechanism for the governing bodies of every Scottish university, all of which include staff and student members, to set the policies of the remuneration committee, which decides on pay for the principal and senior staff.

"Each year the governing body can see for itself that decisions made by the remuneration committee comply with these policies," they said.

Expenses claims

UCU said they also sent out a further Freedom of Information request to 155 higher education institutions across the UK, asking a series of questions about the principals' salaries and expenses.

The union claimed Scottish university leaders were amongst the highest claimants in the UK for expenses.

It accused them of "pocketing pay rises and bonuses... while staff were told there was no money for pay increases".

According to UCU's report:

  • Prof Pamela Gillies from Glasgow Caledonian University spent £27,271 on hotel accommodation - the highest spend of all the UK's principals and vice-chancellors.
  • Prof Sir Jim McDonald from Strathclyde University was the fifth highest spender on air fares in the UK, with flights costing £33,508.

The Universities Scotland spokesman said all expenses incurred "will always be in relation to work that is essential to the mission of the university and to fulfilling the university's role in helping Scotland's society and economy, and that represent best value for money".

"As leaders of higher education institutions which operate in a global higher education marketplace and work extensively with industry, university principals will of course accrue expenses in relation to their work to further the interests of their institutions and Scotland's higher education sector across the UK and around the world."

The body said university finances were subject to "stringent internal and external oversight to ensure that this remains the case".

A Scottish government spokesman said ministers had been clear that "senior pay packages should be in step with the salary, terms and conditions offered to other staff".

He added: "Institutions must ensure the highest standards of transparency in setting pay awards, as recommended by the Von Prondzynski review of higher education governance.

"We are currently analysing the consultation responses to our legislative proposals based upon that review.

"The Scottish Government wants to enable our universities to embrace more transparent and democratic governance principles and we will take account of the views of all stakeholders before confirming our detailed legislative plans in this area."

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