This morning there is a report in The Sun regarding the pay of senior university staff.  It says:

“A staggering 1,250 vice chancellors and senior staff at top unis are pocketing more than £150,000 a year as student tuition fees rocket. Theresa May has been urged to CAP university pay after disbelief at the spiralling wages now paid at Britain’s biggest campuses. An investigation of salaries at 29 unis such as Cambridge and London’s Imperial College revealed 4,220 staff pocketed more than £100,000 in 2015-2016.

“Some 1,254 earn more than the PM – over £150K…

“Figures two weeks ago revealed the average salary and benefits for vice-chancellors rose 2.5 per cent to a whopping £257,094 in 2015-2016.

“This follows an eye-watering 5.4 per cent rise the previous year.

“The University of Bath’s Dame Glynis Breakwell is on £451,000 while Alice Gast trousers £430,000 at Imperial College London.

The greatest danger for the Conservatives is not that voters are unaware of the need for spending restraint by the state. That is widely understood. The problem is the suspicion that the Conservatives wish it in a way that protects the rich but penalises the poor. Low paid public sector workers find themselves being asked to accept a one per cent pay rise – while their fellow public sector workers, who are University Vice Chancellors already on say £250,000 a year might have a rise of 2.5 per cent, or five per cent.

When Lord Adonis raised this issue in the House of Lords the Government’s response, from Lord Bates, was as follows:

“Universities are independent and autonomous institutions, and are responsible for setting the pay for their staff. As such, government does not have pay controls in place for senior university staff. The Government has no current plans to intervene in universities’ remuneration. Vice-chancellor pay is decided by official university remuneration committees, which include expert representatives from outside the sector. We expect these committees to examine robustly the evidence for pay increases for all relevant staff.”

That is not good enough.

The University of Buckingham is an independent institution. They do not receive public funds. Therefore it is reasonable for them to pay their staff what they like. If you regard it as offering bad value for money – then you don’t have to pay the fees to study there.

But for the higher education “sector” more generally, it is misleading to describe it as independent of Government. That is because it is provided with taxpayer funding of £3.7 billion a year from the Higher Education Funding Council. Then we have assorted other methods that colleges obtain public funds – including via the European Union.

For example the accounts for Bath University show it was paid £35.2 million from the Higher Education Funding Council, £20.4 million from Research Councils and £4.5 million from the European Commission. That is before we even take into account the cost of the taxpayer of that proportion of the tuition fees that will never be recouped as student loans are not repaid in full.

It’s our money they are spending.

Universities are happy to behave as part of the public sector when it is a matter of being dependent on state funding. It is quite unreasonable if they then make grand demands for independence when it comes to deciding how much to pay their staff.