There are calls to axe the large corporate salaries of Australia’s university bosses.
There are calls to axe the large corporate salaries of Australia’s university bosses.

Unis face grim future as bosses reap seven figure salaries

Fat corporate salaries for university bosses and their highly paid executive teams should be axed as part of a radical overhaul of universities to make them financially sustainable or face the degrading of higher education.

While many of the bosses of the state's richest universities are still pocketing over $1 million, even during the record financial crisis, the NSW Auditor-General report into universities has questioned weak processes over published performance data - including Vice-Chancellor salaries.

The report is scathing of current procedures saying there is "generally no independent assurance on the validity and accuracy of the reported performance metrics" and that "NSW universities should strengthen processes to review and validate published performance information."

It also found government grants continued to decrease while overseas students contributed $3.7 billion in course fees alone to the NSW public university sector in 2019, showing 41 per cent of NSW universities' total student revenue came from overseas students from three countries.

"Over 42 per cent of all overseas students attending NSW universities come from China, but not all universities are dependent on students from China. Enrolments of students from India and Nepal have increased," the report reads.

 

The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence refused a cut to his $1.6 million salary. Picture: Jonathan Ng
The University of Sydney’s Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence refused a cut to his $1.6 million salary. Picture: Jonathan Ng

 

It comes as News Corp Australia recently reported University of Sydney's Vice-Chancellor Michael Spence refused a cut to his $1.6 million salary and Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor Greg Craven maintained his $1,359,999 salary. Sydney's Macquarie University boss Professor Bruce Dowton also declined to reduce his $1,050,000 income.

UNSW's Vice-Chancellor Professor Ian Jacobs is on $1,314,248 and took a 20 per cent salary reduction during the COVID-19 crisis and University of Technology's Vice-Chancellor Attila Brungs has contributed approximately 25 per cent of his take home pay $1,099,999.

The NSW Skills and Tertiary Education Minister Geoff Lee said they will consider the recommendations.

Higher education institutions are currently facing their biggest financial crisis with a $4.8 billion hole in their annual budgets and some say the over-reliance on overseas students and underfunding from Governments may force universities into a more TAFE-style model with short term contracts.

A News Corp Australia analysis shows the Vice-Chancellors of the country's richest universities are still pocketing seven figure salaries, even after a temporary pay cut prompted by the pandemic. Meanwhile, the head of the health department receives less than most university bosses, despite being responsible for a $100 billion budget and thousands of staff.

Most of the Victorian Vice-Chancellors have taken 20 to 25 per cent pay cuts and recent annual reports show University of Melbourne's Professor Duncan Maskell is Victoria's highest paid Vice-Chancellor, earning $1.499 million while Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner's salary is $1,289,000 before a 20 per cent pay cut. RMIT's Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean took a 20 per cent cut to his $1,119,999 wage and La Trobe University Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar took a 20 per cent pay cut from his $980,000 wage while Professor Iain Martin at Deakin University, voluntarily took a substantial pay cut when he took the job, bringing his salary to $819,000 for 2020 from his predecessor's wage of $1,105,000 and has taken a further COVID-19-related 25 per cent cut.

 

University of Melbourne’s Professor Duncan Maskell is Victoria’s highest paid Vice-Chancellor, earning $1.499 million. Picture: Mark Stewart
University of Melbourne’s Professor Duncan Maskell is Victoria’s highest paid Vice-Chancellor, earning $1.499 million. Picture: Mark Stewart

 

Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner’s salary is $1,289,000. Picture: David Geraghty/The Australian
Monash Vice-Chancellor Margaret Gardner’s salary is $1,289,000. Picture: David Geraghty/The Australian

 

Raymond Markey, Professor of Employment Relations, Macquarie University said there was some concerns the financial crisis would shift universities to a more TAFE-style funding model with an elite group of permanent teachers but a reliance on short-term contracts.

"I know some people have had this idea of going down the same path as TAFE and changing the business model so that there are far more people on short term, five month contracts rolled over from year to year," he said, noting that it would become a "battleground."

"TAFE went down that model of separating course creation and delivery, it would cheapen costs at the universities."

Opposition education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the coronavirus crisis put 21,000 university jobs at risk and it was time to cut elite salaries but also consider what the downgrading of universities will mean.

"Even if university bosses cut their salaries to zero, it would do little to make up for $19 billion universities have lost due to coronavirus," she said,

"University leaders should be paid well - they do complex work. But universities get a lot of taxpayer money, so it's not right that the people running them have salaries up to three times higher than the Chief Medical Officer, the Chief Scientist, or the Prime Minister.

"We're relying on our brilliant universities and their researchers to find a vaccine for the coronavirus."

 

Labor’s Education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the coronavirus crisis put 21,000 university jobs at risk and it was time to cut elite salaries. Picture: John Feder/The Australian
Labor’s Education spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said the coronavirus crisis put 21,000 university jobs at risk and it was time to cut elite salaries. Picture: John Feder/The Australian

 

Recent Universities Australia modelling shows expected revenue loss will be between $3.1 billion and $4.8 billion annually.

A spokesman for the Australian Association of University Professors (AAUP) said the current crisis reveals the over-reliance on international students and exposes "wrong belief that universities are just another source of income that can fuel the economy.

"In reality, universities are at the centre of a knowledge society today where they have an increasingly vital role to play."

A recent survey of academics by AAUP found nearly 50 per cent believed a Vice-Chancellor should earn around two times a professorial salary, putting them more in the range of top public servants.

"Advertising the position at much less than one million will solve many of the current problems because the wrong people simply will not apply," the spokesman said.

 

 

Originally published as Universities face grim future as bosses reap seven figure salaries



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