Universities have agreed to adopt a voluntary code that would require them to justify repeated pay rises for vice-chancellors above those of other staff, after a year of controversy over high salaries.
But the guidelines published by the Committee of University Chairs (CUC) appear to have been watered down compared with a more detailed draft published by the committee earlier this year.
The draft code from January included a requirement for universities to publish how much more their vice-chancellor earns than the median pay of their overall workforce, and compare this multiple to the national range. Those in the highest 20% would then have to justify their unusually high salaries.
But the completed code to be adopted, which is less than half the length of the draft, has dropped the specific range in favour of less definitive wording.
The wording was changed after consultation, with several university leaders objecting to the metric, including some of those whose pay would have been classified as being in the upper bracket.
The code was criticised by the University and College Union, which represents higher #education staff. The union’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “This woefully inadequate code is nothing more than another plea for restraint to a group of people who have ignored every previous request.
“It is staggering that it does not even ban vice-chancellors from attending the meetings where their pay is set. A bizarre gentleman’s agreement where the boss steps outside while their pay is discussed is not how you tackle excessive pay.”
Andrew Adonis, the former education minister who has been a vocal critic of vice-chancellor pay levels, said: “At long last the vice-chancellors have taken some basic steps towards good governance. But it’s not just process we need – it’s fundamental changes in behaviour. There needs to be an end to the culture of greed and excess.”
The new rules appear unlikely to prevent regulators in England from taking further action, with the Office for Students warning universities would face tougher conditions in justifying high pay.