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Former Vice-Chancellor receives £542,000 parting pay package amid staff strikes

Former Oxford Vice-Chancellor Professor Louise Richardson received a total pay package in 2021-2022 of £542,000, an 18 percent increase from the previous year, based on research by the Sunday Times. This pay package is the sum of a starting salary of £411,000pa as well as the value of housing and additional benefits. 

The findings come amid ongoing industrial action by university staff regarding pay, working conditions and attacks on pensions. They are expected to take place over 18 days between February and March as well as a marking and assessment boycott.

Among the Russell Group universities, the chancellor’s pay package comes second only to the stepping-down Imperial College London president, whose pay and benefits package amounted to £714,000. The average for Russell Group universities of Vice Chancellor pay packages was £413,000 in 2021-22, an increase of 6 percent from the previous year.

When asked in an interview with the Financial Times about the sustainability of administrator’s pay increase while staff are struggling to stay afloat during the cost-of-living crisis, her response was that “I would really love to avoid talking about that.”

An independent committee recommended an increase to the Vice-Chancellor’s pay in 2019, concluding that the Previous Vice Chancellor’s pay was not reflective of the extent of responsibilities that accompanied the role and was out of line with UK peers. Due to the pandemic, however, Professor Richardson delayed taking until August 2021. Prior to this, it had not been reviewed since 2009.

The independent chair of this committee, Charles Harman, remarked that “The Vice-Chancellor’s pay is required to reflect the complex responsibilities of leading the world’s highest-ranked university in the face of ever-increasing global competition. The Vice-Chancellor’s salary was last set in 2009, and since then University income has more than doubled, staff and student numbers have increased substantially and Oxford now generates an estimated £15.7billion for the UK economy every year.”

In comparison with universities across the Atlantic, a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education believes that over 200 US university presidents salaries exceed that of Louise Richardson’s.  

The Office for Students does acknowledge that “Leading a university is a complex and difficult role that requires great flexibility, knowledge and experience, and it is right that those who excel in these roles should be properly rewarded.”

However, it also draws attention to the gapping disparities in pay within some higher education institutes between vice-chancellors and academic staff, warning that “universities should not be surprised to be asked difficult questions about this” and should expect “scrutiny from staff and students as well as the general public.”

The University and College Union (UCU), which represents academic staff, claims that 90,000 academic staff are on low-paid, insecure contracts. Many Oxford employees, especially those early on in their academic careers, report struggling to make ends meet in one of the UK’s most expensive cities.

The UCU general secretary Jo Grady claims that “There is a big gap between 3 percent and the inflation offer we have asked for”. 

One of the first tasks facing Richardson’s successor, Professor Irene Tracey, will be to resolve these tensions within university staff if she hopes to unite this ancient institution and lead it forward.

She addressed this source of conflict in her Admission Ceremony speech, remarking that “it is a priority for me to make sure the University is doing everything it can to support staff during these difficult financial times and to be an attractive place to work in the future.”

Moving forward, she promises as one of her top priorities to “immediately commission an independent analysis of all aspects of pay and conditions for all our staff – academic and non-academic – that will report directly to me and Council and on which we can act.” No timeline for this has been set yet. 

Professor Irene Tracey, due to the current economic situation, has decided to take a lower starting salary of £390,000, the pay level prior to the 2019 recommended increase. 

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