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No, university vice-chancellors (VCs) are not being paid too much. Yet at least once a year VC compensation is flighted as a “scandal” in the media for salaries that range from about R1m to more than R4m.

Yes, there are extremes that must be condemned, such as paying leaders of public universities millions of rand in the form of annual or retirement “bonuses” as if these were private sector companies raking up huge profits from their business dealings; I would as minister of higher education require the nominal boss of the VC, the chair of council, to pay back that money.

Another extreme, less talked about, is when some VCs actually get homes for which they do not pay; that, too, must stop. But the basic salaries are hardly competitive in comparable industries. So what is going on? Underlying this media criticism, I suspect, is yet another example of how we demean education in our country. But first, who are these people and what does a VC actually do? To begin with, most of these men and women are highly qualified in their disciplines. They count in their number world-class physicians, mathematicians, engineers, clinical psychologists and among the world’s leading social scientists. It is not only the years of study towards the doctorate that qualified them with the highest degree but the years of experience in business, industry and in climbing the slippery ladder of academic advancement from lecturer to professor to dean and member of the senior executive of a university. It is not simply that they achieved these things over the course of their ca...

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