Vice-chancellors are public servants – and should act like it

UniversityBy Darren Jones

In the last few days the national media has highlighted the pay increases of university Vice Chancellors across the country – recognising that the job of a Vice Chancellor is a de facto role of public service due to the tax payer funded nature of a university.

On reading these articles, people may expect to read the likes of Oxford or Cambridge paying the largest salary increases due to their ability to generate significant private sector income. It is therefore understandable that some may read these articles with shock. A shock induced by the knowledge that the Vice Chancellor with the largest pay rise in the country is Professor Wendy Purcell – Vice Chancellor of the University of Plymouth – a university that is reliant on government tax payer funding and a university that sits in a city recognised as being one that will be hardest hit by public spending cuts.

To frame the significance of Wendy Purcell’s 20% pay rise (to total £283, 504 per year) one should place it in the wider setting of public sector pay. Indeed, the Prime Minister earns a comparably mere £156,000 and so one may justifiably ask how running a university requires over another £100,000 per year. How running a university is more demanding than running a country I’m not quite sure.

The government has recognised the rise of these so-called ‘Fat Cats’ in the public sector and, as such, commissioned a report by Will Hutton on the impact of a wage ratio – proposing that the highest earning members of staff earn no more than 20 times that of the lowest. Assuming that there are members of staff at the university on minimum wage (which is likely) Wendy Purcell’s extortionate salary busts this Government proposed level of acceptable pay.

But, you might say, surely a pay rise is to reflect good performance. Perhaps this 20% rise was due to the successful handling of over 200 staff redundancies at the university in 2008 in order to stabilise the budget? Or perhaps it’s for the careful handling of government funding cuts and rising tuition fees, excluding a mass of student applications from lower-income families?

One may ponder why business leaders are refusing their bonuses and pay rises year on year because of the current climate and why, therefore, Wendy Purcell feels obliged to accept her pay rise.

This isn’t just about Wendy Purcell though, this is about the leaders of public services across our country who should be rewarded for their deliverance but not promoted to an unjust tier of payment when so many others are still struggling. Public service isn’t about pay and prestige it’s about delivery of important service to our community and, as such, its leaders should act like it too.

Clearly, it isn’t for the public to question the decisions of a remuneration committee and the setting of executive pay – although the government may disagree. But it is for the for the public to judge the moral decisions of those leading our public services.

Hard working tax-payers and indebted students should know where their valuable money is going and, more importantly, what the value of that investment is.

As a proud alumnus of the University of Plymouth, and a former member of its Board of Governors and President of its Students’ Union, it pains me to see the immoral decisions of a greedy leader out shine the strong reputation of a great institution.

I wonder what Wendy Purcell’s reaction will be to our disappointment in her neglectful lack of recognition at the current state of our country? Will she scoff at us mere tax payers, taking her extortionate salary with her whilst claiming ‘no comment’ to the press or will she recognise her place as an extremely fortunate public servant of the people and give it back at a time when it’s needed most?

I suppose that all we can do is wait and see as to whether we are all truly ‘in this together’. What is certain is that any lack of recognition and recourse will show the lack of empathy with her staff, her students and her employers – the tax payers of this great country.

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