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University leaders in Australia have been pocketing large salary increases at the same time that they seek federal legislation to allow fee deregulation based on the ­argument their institutions are cash-strapped.

The biggest increase was for Sandra Harding, head of north Queensland’s James Cook University and chairwoman of Universities Australia, an advocacy group.

Harding’s salary has increased 65 percent in just four years -- from $559,000 Australian (which equates to $426,508 in U.S. dollars) in 2010 to $927,000 Australian ($707,287) last year, including a $79,000 (Australian) pay increase last year. All other dollar figures in this article are in Australian dollars.

The title of highest-paid vice chancellor in Australia goes to Australian Catholic University’s Greg Craven, who took home a package of about $1.2 million in 2013. The best paid in Queensland is Peter Coaldrake, head of Queensland University of Technology, who earned $1.06 million last year. Coaldrake, whose salary has risen 39.5 percent since 2010, is the country’s longest-serving vice chancellor of a single institution, having taken over as head of QUT in 2003.

Andrew Bonnell, president of the Queensland division of the National Tertiary Education Union, described the size of the pay packets and the increases as hard to reconcile with vice chancellors’ crying poor in their push for fee deregulation.

“It’s incongruous when universities are crying out that they are cash-strapped and you’ve got vice chancellors on salaries of over $1 million,” Bonnell said. The annual reports for universities in Queensland and Western Australia have been published, but other states have not yet tabled their reports to their relevant ­parliaments.

Of Western Australia’s four public universities, the highest paid vice chancellor in 2015 was Paul Johnson at the University of Western Australia, who appears to have taken a small pay cut to about $959,000. His university also saw a drop in operating ­surplus from $124 million in 2013 to $90.5 million last year.

Richard Higgott, forced to resign from Murdoch University after he was referred to the state’s Crime and Corruption Commission over unspecified claims, received about $760,000 last year. He also oversaw a massive drop in operating surplus from $35.9 million in 2013 to just $2.9 million last year.

Back in Queensland, Peter Hoj, who took over the reins of the University of Queensland in late 2012 following another forced resignation -- that of Paul Greenfield -- took home a salary package of $1.05 million last year.

Scott Bowman of Central Queensland University, with a package of $569,000, was the state’s lowest-paid vice chancellor. Bowman’s salary has risen just 16 percent since 2010. “All the senior executive, including myself, take the same salary increase as the staff get under their enterprise agreement,” Bowman said. “In the year the university posted a deficit, none of the senior executive took a pay rise.”

James Cook University’s chancellor, John Grey, defended Harding’s ­salary increases, saying that in setting executive salaries, “JCU accesses appropriate market benchmarks.… In these increasingly competitive times, universities require ­exceptionally capable and influential leadership.”

Likewise, QUT Chancellor Tim Fairfax defended Coaldrake’s salary, saying the university had revenues of nearly $1 billion.

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