The highest-paid university vice-chancellors in South Africa

 ·10 Jun 2024

The findings of the Council on Higher Education’s Inquiry into the Remuneration of University Vice-Chancellors (VCs) and Senior Executive Managers has painted a picture of which universities allocate the most funds to their VCs.

Earlier this year, Parliament’s portfolio committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology received the final report, which was requested by the minister in January 2020 due to a “growing public concern that executive compensation may be ‘excessive’.”

It is important to note that this is based on data from several years ago (covering data from 2005 to 2019), and thus likely to be higher for each VC.

Regardless, according to the Council of Higher Education’s 2024 report, the highest-paid VC in South Africa was at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), earning over R7.16 million (total cost to company).

University of Johannesburg Campus

This is followed by the University of South Africa (UNISA) (R5.26 million), Stellenbosch University (SU) (R5.23 million), University of Zululand (UZ) (R4.83 million), University of Limpopo (UL) (R4.65 million), and University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) (R4.58 million).

Conversely, the University of Venda’s (UV’s) VC was the lowest remunerated out of 26 investigated universities, at R3.03 million.

The full list by the Council of Higher Education can be found below:

Vice Chancellor Remuneration 2019

Remuneration of Vice-Chancellors in South Africa (2019). Source: Council on Higher Education

The probe found that there were no “clear and definitive correlations between a vice-chancellor’s basic salary and the financial management and health of their university.”

There was also an identified mismatch between what universities were paying their top brass and the knowledge output, particularly the number of research publications, and master’s and doctoral graduates.

Additionally, “some but not all VCs and senior executives enjoy several fringe benefits – which were not always declared – such as university houses, vehicles, drivers, security and cleaning staff. In certain instances, universities pay housing fringe benefit taxes on behalf of their VCs,” read the report.

From 2005 to 2019, VCs’ median basic salary grew from R821,185 to R2,785,633, which is a 239% increase and, when compared with inflation, the real annual increase is 3 percentage points on average.

However, almost all universities think that executive remuneration “should reflect institutional performance, and that VCs and executives should be rewarded for exceptional, and disciplined for substandard, performance,” read the report.

The Council on Higher Education said that “at most universities, VCs’ and senior executives’ remuneration packages are decided by a relatively small group of individuals in the form of a Remuneration Committee whose deliberations are not always disclosed to the full Council.”

“Most but not all VCs sign annual performance agreements and are formally performance evaluated [and] at more than a third of universities, the Chairperson of Council singlehandedly conducts the performance evaluation of the Vice-Chancellor,” it added.

Most chairpersons, who most often decide on the salary increases, believe that the regular award of above-inflation increases to VCs was justified by the need to compete with other institutions and attract, retain and reward skilled staff.

Update: The article has been updated to emphasise and highlight the year the salary data was taken from.

Read: The 11 best universities in South Africa – with two climbing the global rankings

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