Demand-driven uni delivers pay dirt for vice-chancellors

By Leith van Onselen

I have complained repeatedly that Australia’s universities have turned into ‘degree factories’ since student numbers were uncapped in 2009, whereby universities teach as many students as possible to accumulate Commonwealth government funding through HELP/HECS debts. At the same time, quality of teaching, and students’ ability to secure subsequent employment, remain distant priorities.

There is, however, one segment of society that has benefited greatly from the uncapping of university places, which led to a $2.8 billion taxpayer-funded bonanza for universities: vice chancellors.  As reported in The Australian over the weekend, vice chancellors have seen their salaries balloon, with the average salary package now hitting an insane $890,000:

The nation’s 38 public university vice-chancellors were paid an averag­e salary package of $890,000 last year, with 11 earning more than $1 million.

Michael Spence, from the University of Sydney, topped the list with a $1.4m salary package, equating to an increase of 56 per cent over five years.

Dr Spence was followed by Australian Catholic University head Greg Craven who, even with a $90,000 pay cut, took home $1.25m last year.

University of NSW head Ian Jacobs received a salary just shy of that, with $1.22m.

Swinburne University’s Linda Kristjansen, Edith Cowan University’s Steve Chapman and the University of Technology Sydney’s Attila Brungs were all handed bonuses in excess of $200,000.

As remuneration packages continue to climb to record levels, federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham has urged restrain­t, saying salaries should reflect community expectations.

Senator Birmingham has previously pointed to excessive senior executive pay packets as part of his justification for $2.8 billion in funding cuts…

“Taxpayers foot the bill for around 58 per cent of university revenue so VCs should ask themselves whether their pay meets the expectations of students, staff and everyday Australians.”

Nice work if you can get it! Shame for the taxpayers and students that pick up the tab for this largesse.

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  1. Our unis are a scam.

    They’re doing the same shit the power companies did. Gold plated new buildings with fancy, expensive wank all over them, upping administrators, offloading teaching load to 3rd+ year students and paying their CEOs a fortune in order to keep their operating profit low enough to keep begging for more.

    Exhibit A:,144.9629942,3a,75y,217.24h,120.57t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sMklczu-ZOAydDdifpJUveg!2e0!!7i13312!8i6656

    • Mmmm—mm! 😘👌

      Increased exposed surface of flammable cladding! I wonder how well that burns?

      I love the smell of university burning cash cladding in the morning!

    • Some of our uni’s only spend 50% of what they receive from the government on actual education. The rest goes God knows where. Our government is guilty of treating tertiary education as an export industry and little else. The earnings from foreign students is of value sure. But having a well educated citizenry is more important surely?

      • A well educated citizenry? Maybe on a parallel universe.

        Reminds me of the Sliders episode where Quinn and the gang land on a parallel world where intellect is prized.

        Meanwhile Australia is land of the speculator, swindler and sycophant. All hail to the temple of Narev.

  2. Yep… VCs are raking it in – and staff at the coal-face are cut to make for the “government funding cuts”. It’s as it has always been!

    Arrrr!! Tharr she blows!

    • MediocritasMEMBER

      C’mon man, it’s hard work reminding everyone about the traditional owners of the land before cheer-leading with big words about just how wonderful and inclusive the university is, only then to have to break a sweat getting mildly tipsy on cheap graduation champagne, schmoozing about with local power-brokers and scoffing Hors d’oeuvre appetisers.

      • You also work in a uni don’t you 🙂 I know exactly what you’re talking about…

        Vice Chancellors have gone from being the protectors of academia and societal progress to overpaid CEOs sucking on the government teat.

      • “cheap graduation champagne”… cheap… graduation sham-pa-gn? you’re obviously with the plebs in the mosh-pit, sucker! The VCs don’t drink anything that is not being served off the gently perspiring, quivering and aroused nipples of virgins… at least $8000 a bottle too…

        Oh – and again – it’s Horse d’oeuvre appetisers for the graduation mosh-pit dwellers, and 5 Michelin Stars French Appetisers served off the bodies of more quivering virgins… (apparently said French Appetisers are known as “FAPP-etisers”)

  3. Philly SlimMEMBER

    Government doesn’t understand ‘the Golden Rule’. As in, s/he who has the gold, makes the rules.

    The Feds should just ban Federal funding to any university with a chancellor taking home more than top of Band 3 (or whatever the top SES band is). They are providing the funding after all.

  4. So many ‘educated’ people yet the west has never been more useless and whorish. But we can make some really good weapons I suppose. Sick.

  5. Hey man, 56% in 5 years is just keeping up with (real) inflation. Those houses around Glebe ain’t cheap.

    • The University of Melbourne VC lives in the Vice Chancellor’s residence on-campus in Parkville.
      Most likely rent free.

  6. casewithscience

    I used to be a lawyer for two major State universities. I must admit, the salaries are justified when you look at the range of problems for a VC in dealing with academics, students and government parties. Those problems can be wicked and far more difficult than private sector businesses of a similar scale (and where the wages would be comparable, if not greater).

    Seriously, would you expect an academic to give up the good life to administer one of these juggernauts, with their diverse problems, for nothing?

    • Definitely wouldn’t expect them to do it for nothing, but neither would I expect them to be paid $1m. I’m sure they’d happily do it for half that if that was the only option.

    • Ronin8317MEMBER

      The problem with high pay for VC is the amount of money coming from the government. It is not a normal business : it cannot exist without government subsidy.

      When you look at the financial statement for the universities like UTS, from the 2016 figure, total academic payroll expense is 262million, while total non-academic payroll is 245 million. If you go back 14 years to 2002 the payroll is 82 million and 86 million respectively. Revenue have increase 3 folder and payroll have increased 3 fold : there is virtually no gain in efficiency after 14 years : it just got bigger. The argument that the VC should be paid more money simply because the university is bigger is justified.

      • Except university is a special case where the most optimal outcome is revenue from governments. Otherwise you have will just get only the rich can afford to go to universities or student having to take out crippling loans.

  7. Cap the wages of Vice Chancellors at A$300k.

    Stop funding too many degrees. And charge $100k upfront for a 457 visa.

  8. I have done some consulting in the unis … and many are facing a harsh reality. Expenses are or are projected to exceed income. Their business models are not sustainable. Many of them are looking at ways of cutting costs out of the system (headcount) but they are facing strong unions and extremely prickly employees. One VC we worked with could not trust his direct reports to execute on his efficiency plan and being crafty political types, it was almost impossible to pin accountability on any of them (they all identified dependencies that left the VC chasing a convoluted chain) … in the end they went for an incredibly watered down plan that gave them short-term viability and left everyone feeling that the fight would be taken on by the next chump. I watched in disgrace and vowed never to work in the sector again.

    • How can expenses grow to exceed income? Lecturer salaries havent increased much. The materials needed by students are not exotic and, in many cases, the students pay for them anyway. Most of the older uni’s own their campus or pay reasonable rent. So where are the expenses?

      • Low-mid level administrators on $80k+, lots of junk bought, wasteful spending in every area you could imagine. That is where.

  9. ceteris paribus

    Great article Leith. Education and the public purse captured and trashed by neoliberal entrepreneurialism.

    • dafuq – are you sure you know what the word ‘entrepreneurial-ism’ means? Cause I’m pretty sure no university anywhere in the world has ever been accused of that. Entrepreneurs generally produce value or waste their own money trying. Religious indoctrination facilities are pretty much the opposite of that.

      Uni’s are the pointy end of the clergy in our progressive cult state. I suppose it only makes sense, every priesthood’s solution to every problem has always been ‘go to chruch more’ [Be More Holy!]; or in our case, ‘we need more education, won’t someone think of the chilluns’.

      I can’t wait for the wailing when it becomes obvious that the next sector of the economy to get the treatment Big Media is currently getting will be Big Education.

      When this happens headlines will say ‘adjunct jumps off uni building; more job losses expected in higher education’.

      • ceteris paribus

        Derr. If you don’t think that senior management capture and extraction in big organisations, even in nonprofit organisations , is not wickedly entreprenial, we speak a different language. These blokes represent independent operators within the company for their own ends.. As to the substance rather than the process itself, have a look at the research literature studies on the exponential growth ratios of CEO to average salaries since neoliberalism got into swing around 1980

      • ‘senior management capture and extraction in big organisations, even in nonprofit organisations , is not wickedly entreprenial, we speak a different language’

        my bad totally – i forgot we live in the twilight zone now. sorry. its just that there comes a point where this shit is no longer funny, if you know what i am saying.

        Safe-Spaces! Cis-Something! Vibrancy!

  10. Leaders of the big unions get paid hefty sums like this too, cause, you know, Left-wing ideology and all that.

    Hats off to these guys — they get to have their cake and eat it. Earn out-sized salaries and be a moral torch-bearer all at once.

    “We are equal but some are more equal than others.” Chin, chin!

  11. Jumping jack flash

    When universities all became private institutions, for all intents and purposes, they simply did what they had to do.
    They threw open their doors to anyone who wanted to sign up to get a degree.

    Not only that, they then ensured that people signing up to study wouldn’t become discouraged by “unattainable” expectations, ie, actually being competent enough to perform the jobs they were learning how to do.
    Instead of politely telling people they aren’t smart enough, they dumb down the degrees until just about everyone is assured of a pass, at least. It is simply a logical progression to maximise enrolments, and brand satisfaction.

    Yet another national problem that has been caused by our blind adherence to Thatcherism.

    This ideology is so attractive to politicians though. They get the opportunity to keep their jobs, their portfolios, and outsource the actual work to whoever wants it. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

    To sell Thatcherism to the people, they turn (completely necessary) government spending into a huge problem, then conveniently solve it by selling these essential (and expensive) public services to the private sector.

    Or, in the sad case of our once revered universities, reducing funding and regulation to the point where they are basically private entities for all intents and purposes.

    • As long as they sign up enough students to smash the doctor, dentist and pharmacist cartel, it’s fine by me.

    • I didn’t realise Julia Gillard was such a big Thatcherite. It was the Labor party under Gillard that removed the quota system and threw the doors open to demand-driven universities. It was then about getting as many students through the door regardless of ability, and keeping academic standards low enough to ensure those profitable students don’t fail any courses. Socialism: everyone’s a winner! Weeeeeeee!

      • Umm… you may … just may… want to check your label-machine… That’s ain’t socialism – not by a long shot. Your first clue is pairing Thatcher and Socialism in the same phrase.

        (incidentally, Dictionary on OSX crashes badly when I try to tell it to define Socialism – oooooh! Spooky!)

  12. Supply and demand. Lots of cash taken from taxpayers, lots of debt (presumably unwritten by taxpayers), chasing the same thing. Remind you of anything else?

    • ask me teacher! bailouts for megabank? no… ndis + agglomerated pharma/healthcare rorts? no… 457 + immigration rort + reffo extravaganza? no… well fml…

      just sayin’ bud – you gotta be more specific in these parts.

  13. Easy fix…just introduce mandatory reporting for executive salaries and bonuses in all govt funded tertiary education institutions and, for every dollar paid in bonuses, reduce commonwealth funding by 58 cents! Then see how long the bonuses keep rolling!

  14. This is classic Murdoch style reporting, just like the article a few weeks ago whingeing about how much government financial regulators are paid

    $1million is really not a huge amount of money
    If these people did their jobs well, no one would bemoan a single cent of it because the investment would be repaid multiple times

    The ACTUAL problem is that they aren’t doing a good job (or aren’t doing a good job at providing outcomes that benefit the country)
    The salary is really a non-issue

  15. Three year degrees are a waste of time. I studied Commerce at Melbourne Uni 8 years ago, and the degree could have easily been condensed down to two years instead of three.

    We’d be better off putting young intelligent people to work sooner. We’d save on education costs, they would gain more experience and knowledge, and could be put to economic use.