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Australian education minister questions vice chancellor salaries

12 Australian vice chancellors earn more than AU$1 million a year. Source: Shutterstock

Australia’s minister for education Simon Birmingham has called out the salaries of vice chancellors at the country’s universities, amid debate over their pay in the UK and down under.

Speaking with Sydney radio station 2GB on Tuesday, Birmingham said that it was a “very good question” as to why numerous Australian VCs were getting paid upwards of AU$1 million (US$807,000) a year.

“My message to vice-chancellors, university administrators is: don’t talk about whether you have to find savings in terms of things that impact on students and their education,” he said.

Australia’s education minister Simon Birmingham. Source: Facebook/@simonbirmingham

Debate around the salary of university heads was sparked in the UK late last year over revelations that the departing vice chancellor of Bath Spa University Christina Slade was being paid £800,000 (US$1.1 million) during the final year of her role.

Responding to Birmingham’s comments, chief executive of Universities Australia Belinda Robinson told the Guardian that: “it’s somewhat flippant to say you can redistribute vice-chancellor’s salary and be able to pay for a whole lot of things.”

“The underfunding of university places is a much bigger problem than that.”

Birmingham – whose department seeks to further cut public funding to Australia’s public universities – has publicly challenged the sums paid to vice chancellors in the past.

As he introduced budget cuts to higher education of $2.8 billion last year, Birmingham highlighted the fact that the average VC salary in Australia was higher than the chief of the University of Oxford.

Australia’s highest paid is the University of Sydney’s Michael Spence, who earns a cool AU$1.4 million (US$1.1 million) a year.

“Our public university system is world class, praised by international commentators … but some of the vice-chancellors could be making more in a week than a casual academic makes in a year,” the Guardian quoted president of the National Tertiary Education Union Jeannie Rea as saying.

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