University Rich List 2019


Universities are funded by both taxpayers and students (including graduates) directly. Because of this mixed form of funding, it often seems that the university sector is spared the scrutiny usually applied to other public sector institutions.

In 2018, however, the Office for National Statistics re-classified student loans so that they could only partially be classified as loans in government financial returns. This means that the loans would partially count towards the deficit. The reasoning behind this decision was that the ONS concluded that a “significant proportion” of student loans would never be repaid and as such should count as government expenditure.

For British taxpayers, this is a matter of great concern. Every year the government loans students over £16 billion, with just 30 per cent of full-time undergraduate loans expected to be repaid in full. By 2050 the total government liability will have grown to approximately £450 billion. Despite the clear benefits of a strong higher education sector, this ever-growing debt will place a burden on future generations of taxpayers.

This is not the only challenge facing the higher education sector. The Universities Superannuation Scheme, the main pensions scheme for universities, has amassed a £5.7 billion deficit. In response to attempts to modify the scheme to reduce this, lecturers across the UK took to the picket lines for 14 days in 2018 at a cost to students of 575,000 teaching hours. This may be repeated later this year.

This research presents total remuneration data from 120 universities for 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to highlight that senior pay at many British universities is soaring. Furthermore, there are only small correlations existing between the number of highly paid staff at a university and student satisfaction and employment rates. This research should help students press for the best value from their tuition fees, as well as help taxpayers hold universities to account for the money they are spending.

The data from the different years has been presented as an average figure. Due to variable data, the years used for the average may vary. Turn to the methodology section at the end of the paper for a more detailed explanation on this.




Key findings

  • Across 120 universities, there was on average 3,615 staff in receipt of over £100,000 each year in total remuneration.
    • Of these there were 762 staff being remunerated over £150,000.
  • Russell Group universities reported much higher numbers of highly paid staff than other university groups and unaffiliated universities. On average over 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19, Russell Group members remunerated 185 members of staff over £100,000, and 63 over £150,000.
    • The average numbers for an unaffiliated university meanwhile are 27 staff receiving over £100,000 and five staff receiving over £150,000, with MillionPlus and University Alliance institutions lower still.
  • The University of Edinburgh reported the greatest number of high earners, reporting that 335 staff received over £100,000 in total remuneration, of which 118 receive over £150,000. The university with the second highest number of staff receiving over £100,000 was the University of Manchester, with 331 receiving over £100,000. The London School of Economics had the second highest number of staff receiving over £150,000, with 117.
  • Universities with more staff paid over £100,000 fared better in student satisfaction surveys, though no such correlation exists in terms of the number of staff paid over £150,000. Conversely, there is no clear correlation between universities with more high paid staff and employment rates post-graduation.
  • There is a strong correlation showing that the greater the number of highly paid staff a university has, the higher the average earnings of a graduate. This trend is consistent at both the £100,000 and £150,000 level, it is however much weaker in the case of the highest earning university staff.

Oxford and Cambridge did not provide the full information requested and so have been excluded from the data. Cambridge did provide remuneration data which excluded pension contributions showing that 357 staff were paid over £100,000 in 2017-18. Oxford meanwhile paid 331 staff a base salary in excess of £100,000. Had total remuneration data been provided it is likely these institutions would have topped the university pay rankings.




You can use our tool below to search for a specific university and see the average number of staff who were remunerated over £100,000 across a 3 year period (2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19).


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