Unions call for more transparency over Vice-Chancellor’s pay

FOLLOWING Aberystwyth University’s continued refusal to disclose how Professor April McMahon’s wage is decided Unions have called for universities to stop hiding behind “shadowy committees” when decided the vice-chancellor’s pay.

Professor McMahon, Aberystwyth University’s vice-chancellor, as revealed by Cambrian News last year, took a £9,000 pay cut to keep her job following 2 years of substantial pay rises.

Aberystwyth University Vice-Chancellor April MaMahon.

Aberystwyth University Vice-Chancellor April MaMahon.

The university refuses to answer questions over whether the pay cut was related to concerns over performance, following falling student numbers and declining league rankings. They defended Professor McMahon’s 9.6% pay rise in 2013, which grew to £252,000 and includes pension contributions, by saying it was performance related. However, they have since refused to comment as to whether the cut from £228,000 in 2012/13 to £219,000 in 2013/14 was also performance related – and have also been unwilling to say how her pay is decided.

A spokesman from Aberystwyth University said, “Pay of the senior officers is a matter for the remunerations committee.”

The Cambrian News requested minutes from the remuneration committee for the last two years under the Freedom of Information Act to try and establish the reasons behind Professor McMahon’s pay rises, and subsequent cut. However, these minutes were heavily redacted and show no detail of how the decisions on her wages were decided or the level of pay – despite the figure being available in the university’s annual accounts. The university’s grants and the fees of the students at Aberystwyth University pay for her wage. The university said it would not release the information, classing it as “personal data”.

Last year the University and College Union wrote to Vince Cable in an attempt to persuade him to make universities reveal why senior staff receive the pay they do and why it’s decided behind closed doors – with figures rarely released. The UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, stresses the need for top earners’ wages to be transparent as universities cut costs, pensions and drive down staff pay.

She says, “We want to see proper minutes from remuneration committees made publicly available, complete with detailed justification behind any rise in pay.”

She believes that only with the introduction of agreed standards for “open and transparent governance” in universities will see trust in the system restored.

Last year it was revealed that Professor April McMahon earns over £200,000 more a year than the average staff member at Aberystwyth University – with 347 workers earning less than the living wage, which caused an uproar amongst the Unions. With many describing the situation as the development of a “class divide” at the university following staff walkouts over an “unacceptable” pay rise of 1%; the scrapping of a final-salary pension scheme for two of its lowest paid workers; and continued redundancies during a “challenging financial situation” for the institution.