The new principal of Edinburgh University is set to become the highest paid figure in Scottish higher education - as his staff get ready to walk out over a pensions dispute.
Professor Peter Mathieson will take home over £85,000 more than his predecessor as part of a whopping £410,000 welcome package, with benefits including a ‘grace-and-favour’ five-bedroom house in the centre of the capital.
In addition to a basic salary of £342,000 - up from the £257,000 paid to Timothy O’Shea, who stepped down in September - Mr Mathieson will receive £42,000 “in lieu of pension contributions,” as well as a further £26,000 in relocation costs.
The announcement comes less than three weeks before staff at over 60 UK universities, including Edinburgh, prepare for industrial action in a row over pensions.
A spokeswoman for the university said Prof Mathieson’s salary had been judged by its ‘remuneration committee,’ based on “analysis of relevant UK and global benchmark data for Vice-Chancellors’ pay in universities of similar size and complexity.”
She added: “The role of the Principal of the University is a very large, complex and broad-ranging one.”
“The remit combines the academic credibility to inspire, lead and recruit world-class staff and students of the University, a belief in public service, and the business acumen of a Chief Executive in what is an increasingly demanding financial environment for universities.
“There is no provision for any contractual lump sum payments of any kind.”
Mr Mathieson’s appointment to the role courted controversy after accusations he “discouraged freedom of speech” from staff at Hong Kong University where he served as vice-chancellor for almost three years.
After students at the institution posted messages calling for Hong Kong’s independence from China, Mr Mathieson signed a letter condemning the protest as “abuses,” adding that “freedom of expression is not absolute”.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU) described the package as “quite incredible,” adding: “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.
“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.”
She added: “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.”