Andrew Adonis, the former Labour cabinet minister, has called for an independent inquiry chaired by the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, into the “outrageous” pay of university vice-chancellors.
It comes after it emerged that the departing vice-chancellor of Bath Spa, one of the UK’s smaller universities, was paid more than £800,000 in her final year in the role.
The payment to Christina Slade, which include a £425,000 golden handshake, is thought to be a record for the higher education sector. Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of nearby Bath University, was forced to step down last week following an outcry over her £468,000 pay package.
Lord Adonis said the pay of vice-chancellors meant the public had lost confidence in the tuition fee system, which he introduced as Labour’s schools minister.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “It is straightforwardly outrageous what’s happening.”
He added: “In the House of Lords tomorrow I will propose an independent inquiry. I think the archbishop of Canterbury should head the inquiry. He’s paid £80,000 a year for one of the most responsible jobs in the country. If he can look after the souls of the nearly 60 million people in the UK, he’s certainly capable of sorting out the pay of 130 vice-chancellors.”
The universities minister, Jo Johnson, has called on universities to restrain pay of senior management after UCU research showed the average pay for vice-chancellors had risen to £278,000 in 2015-16.
Adonis criticised Johnson on Twitter for failing to speak out against high pay packets.
In his interview, Adonis urged Slade to pay back most of her final year salary. He said: “Bath for some reason seems to be jinxed. They have got one vice-chancellor who’s just gone after being paid nearly half a million pounds a year, which the regulator found followed serious governance failures.
“Now we’ve got Bath Spa university, where there was a pay off of £808,000 for an institution with an annual income of less than £100m, so the vice-chancellor is being paid more than 1% of the total income of the university in this year. She should clearly repay most of that sum. I cannot think of any justifiable reason why someone in charge of a university should be paid £800,000.”
He added: “This is just a joke at the expense of students and unfortunately it’s rather a sick joke because students are now graduating with average debts of £50,000.”
Adonis said tuition fees should be cut from £9,000 to £3,000, the level at which it was set when he introduced the system.
He added: “The whole of the fee regime has become so diseased it may not be possible for it to continue at all ... I’m very worried that the fees may have to go entirely because there just isn’t a basis for public confidence. And part of the reason why there isn’t is because of the way that the vice-chancellors are behaving and putting their snouts in the trough.”