As UCU members prepare to take strike action to defend our pensions, the large salary and benefits package being awarded to incoming Principal and Vice Chancellor, Peter Mathieson, has hit the headlines of a number of newspapers.
James Delaney in The Scotsman on 1st Febrary reported:
Edinburgh University principal to get 33% pay hike
Professor Peter Mathieson will take home over £85,000 more than his predecessor as part of a whopping £410,000 welcome package, with benefits including a ‘grace-and-favour’ five-bedroom house in the centre of the capital.
In addition to a basic salary of £342,000 – up from the £257,000 paid to Timothy O’Shea, who stepped down in September – Mr Mathieson will receive £42,000 “in lieu of pension contributions,” as well as a further £26,000 in relocation costs.
The announcement comes less than three weeks before staff at over 60 UK universities, including Edinburgh, prepare for industrial action in a row over pensions.
In The Times, Daniel Sanderson reported on the same day
The new principal of the University of Edinburgh has become the highest-paid figure in Scottish higher education after agreeing a salary package worth almost £400,000 a year.
Peter Mathieson, who begins work this week after moving from Hong Kong University, will be paid a basic salary of £342,000, £85,000 more than his predecessor. He will also receive about £42,000 in lieu of pension contributions, the university will cover one-off relocation costs of £26,000 and he will live in a five-bedroom grace-and-favour home in central Edinburgh.
He has defended the package offered by the university’s remuneration committee. Professor Mathieson also outlined plans to improve the student experience by making greater use of technology and signalled his determination to widen access to more students from poorer backgrounds.
Mary Senior, Scotland official for the University and College Union, said: “It is galling for ordinary staff to see the spiralling pay and perks of university principals when university leaders say there is no money for staff pay and pensions. People feel betrayed.”
In a follow-up article the following day, Sanderson looked at this in a broader context.
University principals have been accused of “feathering their own nests” by opting out of pension schemes and instead negotiating large top-ups to their salaries.
About a third of principals at Scottish universities have stopped paying into the higher education pension scheme. Rather than foregoing contributions from their employer, however, they are receiving tens of thousands of pounds extra in their pay packets.
Staff representatives said the practice was unfair as workers on low or average salaries had no entitlement to top-up payments if they chose to leave the pension scheme. The issue is particularly sensitive as university staff are preparing to strike over efforts to impose less generous pension terms.
Jim McDonald, principal of Strathclyde University, received £54,000 in lieu of pension contributions last year, in addition to his £299,000 salary, according to annual accounts.
Peter Mathieson, of Edinburgh University, this week became the highest paid vice-chancellor in Scotland after accepting an annual package worth almost £400,000, which includes £42,000 instead of pension contributions.
Paying into the university scheme can prove inefficient from a tax perspective if pension pots hit a £1 million limit. Although staff can continue to pay into the scheme, contributions above £1 million are taxed, so some high earners request a salary top-up instead.
Mary Senior, Scotland official for the University and College Union, said that principals should accept the same pension arrangements as their staff, and that refusing to do so was “poor leadership”. She said the situation showed there was “one rule for a few at the top and one for everybody else”.
The union has announced a wave of strike action, starting this month, over efforts to change the pension scheme that would mean staff no longer have a guaranteed level of retirement income.
Ms Senior added: “Staff in universities do not have the option of requesting extra money to best suit their private pension or tax arrangements. Principals feathering their own nests while backing changes to slash staff pensions is one of the reasons staff are so angry.”
Principals at Queen Margaret, Glasgow Caledonian, Edinburgh Napier and Dundee universities also receive salary top-ups instead of pension contributions. The option is open to all high earners at universities who hit the £1 million limit. Pay of senior figures in education is under fresh scrutiny since Professor Mathieson’s salary was agreed on. His basic salary of £342,000 is £85,000 higher than his predecessor.
The university has defended the contract by pointing to Edinburgh’s annual income of almost £1 billion and saying it represents a pay cut for Professor Mathieson, compared with his previous role at the University of Hong Kong.
Luke Humberstone, the president of NUS Scotland, said: “At a time when the poorest higher education students are taking on the greatest debt just to get by, it beggars belief that any university principal would be handed this supersize salary. Our universities are educational charities which receive over a billion pounds of public money.”
A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said pay was decided by university remuneration committees. She added: “This would include the decision to offer an alternative to pension contributions, if and when this no longer becomes an effective way for someone to save for retirement. Staff and student voices can be heard in remuneration committees and will be consulted with.”
Principal top-ups Scottish university principals’ salary top-ups in lieu of pension contributions Jim McDonald £54,000 Strathclyde University Peter Mathieson £42,000 University of Edinburgh Pamela Gillies £36,000 Glasgow Caledonian Pete Downes £32,000 University of Dundee Andrea Nolan £30,000 Edinburgh Napier Petra Wend £8,000* Queen Margaret University *opted out of scheme mid-way through year
Meanwhile, The Student conducted an interview with Mathieson, where he defended his award.
On principle couldn’t you have said no to the salary?
I could’ve done I guess, but I was already taking a substantial pay cut.
The article also revealed that:
There are 21 members of Edinburgh university staff are earning over £200,000 a year while a survey conducted by The Student found that one in seven of your postgraduate tutors earn less than £500 a month.
It would seem that the issue is not one of available funds but of priorities.