University leaders have agreed to a new code on senior pay, which is expected to be published in the next few weeks.
University representatives held a meeting with minister Jo Johnson on Wednesday where they accepted the need for more accountability.
It follows fierce criticism of university leaders over claims of excessive senior pay, with the head of the University of Bath stepping down.
Mr Johnson says “public confidence” over pay had to be restored.
The universities minister met leaders of Universities UK, the Russell Group and the Committee of University Chairs – with Mr Johnson calling for more restraint over pay.
Fair pay code
It is understood that a “fair remuneration code” will be published in January for university leaders, by the Committee of University Chairs.
Mr Johnson told university leaders that there must be a more transparent and independent system for the setting of senior salaries – and an end to the “upwards ratchet in pay”.
He set out a series of requirements, including that vice chancellors must not sit on the committee that decides their pay.
There will also have to be disclosure of benefits, such as subsidised housing and expenses.
The size of pay gaps between university heads and academic staff will also have to be published.
“It is vital that pay arrangements command public confidence and deliver value for money for students and taxpayers,” said Mr Johnson.
Universities, under increasing public pressure and protests from their own academic staff, say they also want to “rebuild public confidence”.
“We agree more needs to be done to ensure the process for deciding senior pay is viewed as open and accountable,” a Russell Group spokesperson said.
The group of leading universities says it is backing “a new code to ensure pay-setting arrangements are as rigorous and transparent as they can be”.
Universities UK said “competitive pay is necessary to attract first rate leaders” but a new code would be a “welcome step”.
“As universities receive funding from taxpayers and through student fees, it is reasonable to expect pay decisions to be fair, accountable and justified,” said a Universities UK spokesman.
Mr Johnson last week warned the university sector that it needed to get pay under control – and that a new regulator would be used to enforce this.
There have been a series of protests over vice-chancellors’ pay in recent weeks – including at the University of Bath, the University of Southampton and at Bath Spa.
“Has there been a problem? Most definitely,” said Mr Johnson last week. But he said universities now recognised the need to answer public concerns about value for money.
“I think they really are starting to get it.”