CRITICISM of salary levels on the grounds that they are “higher than the prime minister earns” does not make much sense since no one has ever pretended that the occupant of No 10 Downing takes home what he or she would deserve were the burden of responsibilities taken fully into account. -- it would require a salary and bonuses beyond the wildest avaricious dreams of a banker. Still and all, it is somewhat surprising to see that the chief executives of many local authorities in Britain do better than the prime minister and this week we have learnt that more than eighty university heads are similarly rewarded. Britain's highest paid vice-chancellor (to use the jargon) gets close to 500'000 pounds a year -- probably with accommodation and wine cellar thrown in -- whereas the prime minister has to be content with less than half that.

It follows that when the top jobs double or treble their income in a decade -- as has happened in many universities -- the lower ranks will seek similar increases. And so it goes on. Yet there is no evidence that the results being achieved by universities in educating the best of Britain's youth have been two or three times better -- indeed there are some critics who will say that standards are falling. Payment by results would be too crude an approach but there should be some correlation, surely?