High pay for mediocre vice-chancellors ‘unacceptable’, says minister

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The new universities minister has said he is against high pay for mediocre vice-chancellors, calling the example of Bath an “egregious case”.

Professor Dame Glynis Breakwell is the UK’s highest paid vice-chancellor, reportedly receiving £475,000 in salary and benefits last year.

On Tuesday, the University of Bath’s court passed a motion calling for her immediate departure following a row about her pay.

At an event at Queen Mary University London, Sam Gyimah MP told students: “I am intensely relaxed about vice-chancellors earning more than I do.

“What you don’t want to be paying lots of money for, what I’m definitely against is high pay for mediocre performance. That is unacceptable.”

He added: “There have clearly been some egregious cases, the Bath one is an obvious example, and that is not what you want to be a feature of the system in this country when students are paying considerable sums of money, by any standards, to improve their lives.”

Dame Glynis will step down from the University of Bath in August, then take a sabbatical on full pay until February.

Hundreds of students, accompanied by members of staff, marched at the university in November in protest at Dame Glynis’ retirement terms.

At Queen Mary University London on Thursday night, Mr Gyimah spoke about his priorities in his new ministerial role, saying he was concerned about value for money.

The current maximum tuition fee for a typical three-year undergraduate course is £9,250.

The Conservative MP for East Surrey said: “What are students getting in universities, contact time, are they getting what they paid for?”

Mr Gyimah, who was interviewed by Professor Philip Cowley at the east London university as part of their In Conversation series, also spoke about an issue that has proved contentious on campus: free speech.

“No-platforming” is a practice in which a group or individuals seen to have unacceptable or offensive views are banned from taking part in a public debate or meeting, and has been used to stop certain speakers visiting universities.

“I just think that universities are places you go to, it should be an assault on the senses,” he said.

“It’s where you go from home, often for the first time, meet people who are completely different to you, different points of view, different experiences, and that is a core part of the university experience and that is something that should be encouraged and should flourish.

“I think it would be a tragedy to have the kind of censorship that some US universities have become known for, but at the same time you don’t want free speech being an excuse for the kind of baiting that you get from the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos for example.

“You want free speech to be within the law, but also conducted in a civil and graceful manner.”

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