Third of Russell Group vice-chancellors got lockdown pay rises despite online learning

Student complaints hit record levels

A survey in February, when all Covid restrictions were ditched, found that “blended learning” was still rife on three quarters of campuses, prompting ministers and regulators to launch “boots on the ground” inspections and threaten fines.

Student complaints to the ombudsman for universities nationwide hit record levels last year, at 2,793 and £1.3 million was paid out in compensation.

While some vice-chancellors took a voluntary pay cut in the early stages of the pandemic, fifteen of these were quietly bumped back up to normal levels.

In the 2019-20 accounts, 12 vice-chancellors got a pay rise, and 11 in the 2018-19 accounts.

The 10 top universities to give vice-chancellors a remuneration rise last year were UCL, Oxford, Cambridge, Newcastle, Glasgow, Sheffield, Durham, Queen Mary, Leeds and Manchester.


Arabella Skinner, from parents group UsForThem, said: “It’s quite shocking… students have been still expected to pay full tuition and often accommodation costs, when their educational experience is not what they have paid for. To hard-pressed students it must feel like vice-chancellors are cashing whilst their education suffers.”

Jo Grady, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Vice-chancellors already enjoy eye-watering salaries, chauffeur-driven cars and huge benefit packages, and it is frankly insulting that their pay packets have gone up even further.

“For the university staff whose pay and pensions continue to be cut to the bone, this will be met with fury.

“These so-called leaders of our universities are being rewarded for their failure… It’s no wonder they are considered the villains of the entire sector.”

Pay rises

Aside from UCL, the largest rises in pay packets including employer pension contributions were the University of Leeds, at £42,000, Durham University, at £18,000, and Newcastle University, at £13,000.

Prof Stephen Toope, Cambridge University’s boss, had a £7,000 rise to reach £475,000, while Oxford’s Prof Louise Richardson got a £2,000 boost to £459,000.

Most of the vice-chancellors had rent-free accommodation included in their pay packet, including up to £124,000 in value at Imperial.

The University of Exeter handed its new boss Prof Lisa Roberts a £24,000 bonus. UCL’s new chief Michael Spence received £25,000 in “relocation costs”, while Cambridge’s boss got £5,000 for private medical insurance.

A Russell Group spokesman said “flipped lectures” online will continue but added: “Campus life has returned to normal and all of our universities have resumed in-person teaching, which remains at the heart of the university experience.

“Students can expect seminars, small group classes and lab work to be taught in-person, alongside a range of extra-curricular activities, social events and support services on campus.

“Our universities’ focus will always be on providing a high-quality teaching and learning experience for students, including by adapting to new technologies, pedagogic insights and opportunities as they arise, as well as learning from what works well.”

  • Partner links