National Union of Students trustee 'disgusted' at chief executive's £100k salary

Money spent on 16 per cent pay hike for Ben Kernighan (pictured), who will join as chief executive in July, would be better spent on campaigns, says Edward Bauer

Ben Kernighan
Ben Kernighan

A trustee of the National Union of Students has criticised the appointment of Ben Kernighan as the charity’s chief executive, claiming he will be paid too much and lacks campaigning experience.

It was announced last week that Kernighan, deputy chief executive of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, would leave the umbrella body in June to take up the top job at the NUS in July. He has worked at the NCVO for 14 years.

But Edward Bauer criticised his fellow NUS trustees for approving a motion to pay Kernighan an annual salary of £100,000, 16 per cent more than his predecessor Matt Hyde, who will this month become chief executive of the Scout Association.

Bauer said in a blog published last week: "I left the emergency trustee board meeting to decide the pay and criteria for the NUS chief executive in disgust."

Bauer said he did not know Kernighan’s agreed final salary, but said the board had approved a motion to increase the salary for the position to £100,000.

"The wage of the previous chief executive, Matt Hyde, was £86,000, which was clearly already far too high," wrote Bauer.

He argued that the money would be better spent on campaigns for postgraduates and international students, because the NUS spends only £5,000 a year on such campaigns.

"It would be a vastly more appropriate financial decision to put this money into a front-line campaign that would actually help the situation of students who are increasingly suffering financial hardship," said Bauer.

He argued that Kernighan did not have any experience as a campaigner and could not show commitment to the work of the NUS.

"The NUS is a campaigning organisation and the chief executive is expected to be a part of this," Bauer said. "If we are going to have a chief executive of the NUS we should be looking for someone with a background in mass campaigning, not simply anyone with ‘managerial or communication skills’."

He accused the NUS of being "pale, male and stale" and said there was a clear problem with equality within the organisation.

"I demanded as a minor concession that when recruiting for the chief executive role we sought someone out with the skills, training and experience to ensure diversity within the organisation, if not a clear and demonstrable understanding of the structural barriers many face," said Bauer.

Responding to Bauer’s comments, Liam Burns, president of the NUS, said: "We are fortunate to have found in Ben a group chief executive with the right combination of campaigning, management and charity experience to ensure our organisation is well placed for the strategic challenges that lie ahead.

"Ben is a proven campaigner with a wealth of experience, having cut his teeth both with the Terrence Higgins Trust and the NCVO.

"Both the requirements and remuneration for the post of group chief executive reflect the size and complexity of the role."

NUS awarded £5m environmental grant

The NUS has been awarded £5m by the Higher Education Funding Council for England to help students ensure their universities and colleges treat environmental issues as a priority.

Student unions will be able to apply to the Students’ Green Fund for funding of up to £300,000 over two years for projects that encourage local collaborative sustainability initiatives. Twenty-five recipients are expected to be chosen.

Danielle Grufferty, a vice president of the NUS, said: "HEFCE’s investment in students indicates a firm commitment."

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