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STUDENT VOICES: New Vice-Chancellor receives criticism for pay as she starts at the University of Brighton

The university’s new Vice-Chancellor, its most senior official, has taken up post amid criticism about her pay.

Professor Debra Humphris’ appointment was announced in the summer, as a replacement to the retiring Professor Julian Crampton. She is the third person to hold the position in the university’s history, and the first woman in the role. Prior to moving to Brighton she was Vice Provost (Education) at Imperial College London for three years, and she previously held a number of leadership positions at the University of Southampton. She began her career in nursing, and spent two decades working in the field before transitioning to academia.

Since starting in her role on 1st December, however, controversy has arisen over the fact she is being paid £11,000 more than her predecessor. Local newspaper The Argus revealed this weekend that her total remuneration is £235,000, including a £25,000 performance bonus which Humphris has said she will donate to Brighton Students’ Union.

The rise comes amid massive spending cuts in the public sector, and as the government proposes allowing universities to raise fees above £9000 for the first time. Free Education Brighton, a student group which clashed with police on campus last week, attacked the university’s decision. Speaking to The Verse, a spokesperson said: “The mass increase to an already six figure salary is shocking, but unfortunately not surprising. As universities are actively being turned into businesses we expect to see more practises, traditionally used by large corporations, becoming common within the university. 

“The donation of her bonus speaks volumes for itself. This money is purely symbolic; it is clearly not an incentive to work. It has been granted to our dear leader to satisfy the business model of leadership, and it is being given away to placate the union, get students on her side and ultimately reduce resistance to the impending doom that she is about to unleash upon us (course cuts, increased living costs and privatisation).”

The university defended Humphris’ pay, pointing out that it was decided by an independent committee. A university spokeswoman said: “The salary and benefits package awarded to the new Vice-Chancellor reflects market forces and is below the sector average for similar organisations. Senior management pay needs to reflect what it takes to attract and retain the very best leaders, in what is a global market for leadership talent.”

Meanwhile, Humphris has tried to focus the beginning of her tenure on students, introducing herself via a video interview with student union president Hayley Wood. She has highlighted her experience as an openly LGBT woman, working on equality in education. Her predecessor, Crampton, oversaw the university’s expansion to Eastbourne and Hastings during his 10 year tenure. He was awarded a CBE for his work earlier this year.

by Tommer Spence

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