University heads received an average of £260,000 per year and 18 received pay rises over 10%, according to a salary survey from the UCU lecturers’ union.
The biggest earner in 2013-14 was the head of Nottingham Trent University whose total benefits were £623,000.
Last week, university leaders warned against cutting tuition fees to £6,000, arguing that budgets were under threat.
The UCU leader Sally Hunt said the lack of “accountability surrounding senior pay and perks is a national scandal”.
Business Secretary Vince Cable warned that universities should “think twice” about large pay rises for senior staff and that such pay levels were “hard to swallow”.
The survey from the lecturers’ union shows that the top 10 earners among vice-chancellors received between £392,000 and £623,000, based on total benefits.
It also revealed how some university heads have had substantial increases, at a time when lecturers have been campaigning over pay.
University income has been under scrutiny during political battles over tuition fees.
Labour last week called for fees in England to be capped at £6,000 per year, a proposal which prompted warnings of financial damage from university leaders.
Top 10 vice-chancellors’ pay, 2013-14
1. Nottingham Trent University, Neil Gorman: £623,000 (including accrued bonuses)
2. London Metropolitan University, Malcolm Gillies: £453,000 (including payment in lieu of notice)
3. University of Oxford, Andrew Hamilton: £442,000
4. London Business School, Sir Andrew Likierman: £419,000
5. The Open University, Martin Bean: £412,000
6 University of Birmingham, Sir David Eastwood: £410,000
7. University of Exeter, Sir Steve Smith: £400,000 (including £58,000 performance-related remuneration)
8 University of Bath, Glynis Breakwell: £395,000
9. London School of Economics, Craig Calhoun: £394,000
10. University of Surrey, Sir Christopher Snowden: £392,000
Source: University and College Union
A statement from Nottingham Trent University’s board of governors said that Neil Gorman’s £623,000 reflected a 2% pay increase, in his final year as vice-chancellor.
But he also received “additional monies” accrued over five years and agreed upon when the university “required continuity of leadership”.
This survey also highlights the scale of spending on air fares, including first class and business class tickets.
The head of the London School of Economics tops this list with almost £60,000 in flights.
A spokesman for the university said: “A key part of the director’s role at LSE is to maintain the array of international relationships and establish new links with universities, businesses and non-governmental organisations around the world. Inevitably this involves a significant amount of international travel.”
In addition to their pay, there were vice-chancellors claiming up to £2,700 per month in expenses.
And in a separate question, vice-chancellors spent up to £2,200 per month on hotel bills.
Glasgow Caledonian University’s head Pamela Gillies had the highest amount for hotel bills, with £27,271.
A spokeswoman for Glasgow Caledonian said “universities operate in a fiercely competitive global sector” and the expenses reflected the need for “relationship-building for flagship developments and for graduation ceremonies” in overseas branches in Bangladesh, Oman and South Africa.
“This has inevitably required extended trips to our overseas locations and having increased costs.”
The university lecturers’ union also criticised the way that some universities refused to reveal details of senior pay. It says that 24 out of 155 institutions would not respond or used exemptions from Freedom of Information requests.
“Many staff and students will be amazed at the size of vice-chancellors’ salaries, and at the largesse displayed by some university leaders when it comes to first class flights, hotels and other expenses,” said UCU leader Sally Hunt.
“That this is happening in public institutions which are largely funded by the taxpayer and students makes the lack of transparency and accountability surrounding senior pay and perks a national scandal.
“We need agreed standards for open and transparent governance in our universities so trust in the system can be restored.”
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said: “The salaries of university leaders in the UK are in line with those in competitor countries and comparable to similarly sized public and private organisations.
“Senior management pay needs to reflect what it takes to attract and retain the very best leaders to UK universities, in what is a global market for leadership talent.
“The remuneration packages of vice-chancellors are determined by independent remuneration committees at each individual institution.
“Higher education continues to be one of the UK’s most successful sectors, contributing over £73bn to the economy, £10bn in export earnings and providing the skills and ideas that our economy needs to grow.”
Business Secretary Vince Cable warned that the public expected university income to be spent “improving the student experience and strengthening the UK’s world-class reputation in education and research”.
“We have worked hard to protect universities’ income so that they can do just this.
“And at a time when most university staff are seeing modest wage increases, if any at all, news of these large pay rises for university bosses will be hard to swallow. It would be wise for the sector to think twice before increasing vice-chancellors’ salaries.”