By Kylie Noble, editor
Vice Chancellor Patrick Johnston was appointed on March 3 2014. On a yearly wage of £249,000 he is the highest paid public official in Northern Ireland. Mr Johnston enjoys a £19,000 increase in his pay compared to predecessor, Sir Peter Gregson, and has a complimentary residence on the Malone road.
It is a life that contrasts greatly to many of his staff. Speaking to The Gown last year whilst on strike, PFC cleaner for 22 years Catherine Mallon spoke of how “as one of the lower paid staff, it’s hard when you’re struggling with mortgages and everything else to take this for 5 years in the face of austerity.” Staff last year went on strike due to an initial pay rise offer of 1%. University College Union (UCU) stated that staffs wages had remained stagnant since October 2008 and their members were losing out on a 13% increase, to match inflation.
Yet in an interview with The Gown, Mr Johnston rejected that levels of pay for staff were of utmost importance. When asked if he did not feel that all staff are entitled to a living wage and would its full implementation not help with his 2020 Vision to improve Queen’s, Mr Johnston defended the stagnant nature of pay levels arguing that “in terms of staff at all grades- that was part of a national agreement which we’re part of.”
Disagreeing that the level of pay is linked to satisfaction at work, Mr Johnston said that “pay is actually a very poor motivator in of its self” and that “the greatest motivator is actually being able to develop yourself and develop those around you… in terms of the overall things that really matter to staff, it’s actually the environment they work in and opportunities there for them to develop themselves and others around them and to work in teams which have harmony.”
A spokesperson from UCU disagreed with Mr Johnston commenting “the level of pay is the key factor in attracting the best staff and in motivating them.” Although commenting that the 2% pay rise was “very welcome” after “several years of real pay declining” the spokesperson opposed Mr Johnston’s view that job satisfaction is not interlinked to pay levels.
“Worries about poor pay and job insecurity demotivate everyone and override other factors. At some stage most academics have struggled, often for years, at the lower end of the pay scales on insecure fixed-term contracts. The permanent academic paid positions offered to the fortunate few provide better job security and this is also a very import-ant motivator. It provides the environment that encourages confidence in being able to do more imaginative research and teaching.”
In a report published by the Young Greens of England and Wales in October 2013, it was found that Queen’s then rated as the 31st most unequal university in the UK out of 113 UK universities, in terms of staff’s pay ratio between the lowest and highest salaries. At the time of publication, Sir Peter Gregson was on a salary of £239,604, and 23 members of staff were paid a yearly salary of , or above £140,000.
In an interview with BBC Ulster last October, Mr Johnston was recorded as saying that, it was absolutely right that the current fee on caps should be lifted. Mr Johnston refutes that he was misinterpreted. “I actually don’t have the view that fees should be raised. My view is actually that we need to fund higher edu-cation properly…the real challenge currently is that compared to our comparators we are already at a 20% deficit.”