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How much do the University’s employees really earn?

Following the release of Cardiff University’s financial statements for the previous year (2011/12), questions have been raised about the allocation of salaries to senior employees after substantial increases were made to certain pay grades.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request sent by gair rhydd asked the University to provide “The names of the individual staff paid between £100,000- £289,999, and their relative salaries”, “The department and initial hire date of the aforementioned staff” and finally, “The names of the staff paid below £100,000, their role and start date.” However, the University has thus far refused to disclose anything except the number of employees in each pay grade.

In response to the FOI request, Cardiff University claimed that it “has a duty to protect against the unnecessary disclosure of personal information”, adding that it does not believe there to be a “legitimate public interest” in the disclosure.

However, the same document cited by the University also states that, “It is reasonable to expect that a public authority would disclose more information relating to senior employees than more junior ones. Senior employees should expect their posts to carry a greater level of accountability, since they are likely to be responsible for major policy decisions and the expenditure of public funds.”

As they are partially funded by the Government, universities such as Cardiff are regarded as public authorities. Despite this, the only member of the Grade I pay bracket whose identity has been revealed by the University is the Vice-Chancellor, who was paid £285,000 in the 2011/12 financial year. The University does publish the number of staff members in each pay grade, but those in the higher pay brackets ultimately receive the same degree of anonymity as those further down the pay scale.

Do students have a right to know in detail exactly how the University spends its money, and who receives it? That is open to debate, but questions clearly need to be asked over the exact nature of the adjustments.

In the previous financial year, pay for employees already making £140,000 or more rose by a minimum of £1.12m. Four employees were added to the £140,000-149,999 pay bracket, and three joined £160,000-169,999.

It also appears that either a new position was created or that someone received a substantial pay rise, as the 2011/12 financial records list indicates that one employee now occupies the previously vacant £240,000-249,999 pay bracket, making them the second-best paid individual in the history of Cardiff University. From the financial records, it is apparent that if someone did indeed receive a pay rise taking them into the £240,000 plus bracket, it was at least £30,000 annually.

The true academic value of this investment is at this point unknown. The University looks to be maintaining its firm stance on privacy, maintaining that, “providing the exact salary of every member of staff is not necessary, is disproportionate and would add no further value to public understanding of pay levels.”

Some Russell group universities, such as Queen’s University Belfast, claim in their financial statements that a financially responsible university spends a maximum of 55 per cent of its total expenditure on salaries. Cardiff spent 57 per cent in 2009/10, which rose to 59 per cent in 2010/11 where it stayed going into 2011/12. This is well above the Russell Group average for that year, which was 55.5 per cent.

Cardiff’s total expenditure on salaries increased by 3.4 per cent for the 2011/12 financial year, again above the Russell Group average of 2.69 per cent. In total, £249,000,000 was spent on salaries by Cardiff in 2011/12. The number of employees making £140,000 or more went from 24 in 2010/11 to 31 in 2011/12, although the total number of employees making £100,000 or more only increased by eight.

As the identities of those receiving substantial salaries are as of yet unknown, it is difficult to condemn the University for irresponsible spending – the salary changes might yet have an academic benefit. However, it is also entirely possible that they will not, and that the money could have been better spent.  Until full disclosure occurs, the questions will remain.

Jacob Dirnhuber

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