The University of Edinburgh has defended the “incredible” pay of its new principal.
Professor Peter Mathieson, who starts this month, is said to be the highest-paid figure in Scottish higher education with a basic salary of £342,000 – £85,000 more than his predecessor.
Pension contributions and relocation costs for his move from Hong Kong University reportedly take the pay package to over £400,000 and the University and College Union (UCU) said the figures were “extraordinary” when university staff across the country are preparing to strike over pensions.
The University of Edinburgh said Prof Mathieson’s salary was determined by a remuneration committee that took account of pay in universities of similar size.
A spokeswoman said: “It was judged that this level of salary was appropriate to attract the best candidate in an internationally competitive field and that it was commensurate with the size and scale of the responsibilities of the job.
“It was recognised that this represents a significant pay cut for Professor Mathieson. In absolute terms, this salary level is in the second quartile of the Russell Group vice chancellors’ pay.
“By proportion of turnover, this salary is the lowest in Scotland and the fifth lowest in the Russell Group.”
Prof Mathieson told The Times he should be judged on his record at Edinburgh.
He said: “I am aware there has been a lot of focus on vice-chancellors’ pay, I’ve read that with interest from Hong Kong.
“I had no negotiations — they made me an offer and I accepted it. There was never any discussion about me wanting to be the highest-paid or anything else.
“They recognised that offer involved me taking a substantial pay cut because Hong Kong is a high-salary, low-taxation environment. It’s a big organisation, a big responsibility. I fully understand it will cause some attention.”
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Edinburgh must have looked at months of terrible headlines for higher education about pay and perks, and considered the growing unrest about efforts to slash staff pensions.
“They have considered all this and decided a massive salary hike, a welcome package over £400,000 and a five-bed central Edinburgh home is the best response. It is quite incredible.
“There is a real crisis of leadership in our universities at the moment and things will come to a head when staff, who have been let down time and again by their leaders, walk out at 61 universities in the row over pensions.
“I implore vice-chancellors to show some leadership and to talk to us to resolve the dispute.
“Universities have promised time and again to get to grip with excessive senior pay and perks, yet this latest example shows they have no intention of doing so.
“Politicians can talk all they like about tougher sanctions to deal with the problem but it looks like universities will continue to ignore them.”