WITS University Council is considering paying as much as R3-million in bonuses to its senior executive team, though Wits academics and SRC are in opposition.

Senior executives might be entitled to receiving a bonus of up to 20% of their annual salaries, this could be hundreds of thousands of rands each, using figures from Wits’ annual report for 2014.

The matter was discussed during an April 15 meeting of University Council leaving the body divided between “internal” members including the Wits SRC and representatives from academic staff who are against the bonuses and “external” member who are for it and are mostly from corporate backgrounds or government, according to council member and academic representative Prof David Dickinson.

Dickinson said he had submitted a proposal to do away with the bonuses to the Remuneration Committee (RemCo) but this was turned down. The matter was put to the full council who voted for bonuses with the eight external members narrowly defeating the seven internal members who opposed. There was one abstention and members of council who were in line for bonuses recused themselves.

Because of the divisions, and the narrow vote, over executive bonuses the council decided to have Vice Chancellor Adam Habib and University Council chair Randall Carolissen discuss a possible solution.

Dickinson has argued that executive bonuses at universities cannot be justified, particularly in light of last year’s #FeesMustFall protests.

“I feel I share the views of other academics and that executive bonuses should not have a place at universities,” Dickinson told Wits Vuvuzela.

When contacted by Wits Vuvuzela, Habib defended the bonuses, saying they were necessary for Wits to keep quality executives.

“Benchmarking studies show that without the variable pay (executive bonuses), our executives are below the average for the sector. We should also be mindful of being competitive otherwise we are likely to lose our executives to other institutions,” Habib said.

Habib could receive as much as R460 000 if the bonuses are approved. He has said he would donate his bonus to needy students if he received it.

Dickinson said that while external members argue that while the awarding of executive bonuses is not perfect given the current economic context, they are a necessary incentive to ensure that the executives perform.

While Wits executives may earn less than their counterparts in government or corporate South Africa, their potential bonuses would still be more than the lowest paid insourced Wits Worker who earns approximately R54 000 a year.

Wits Vuvuzela contacted external University Council member Rob Hamer, head of investment bank at Rand Merchant Bank, for comment but he declined and referred questions to Carolissen.

Carolissen could not be reached for comment.

Senior executive team bonuses could be up to 20% of their salary, with the total for the team not exceeding 15% of the collective salaries.

Dickinson has said that executive bonus allocations are discussed in confidential meetings with the vice-chancellor, deputy vice-chancellor, chair and deputy chair of council. Their recommendations are then discussed with RemCo who will approve the recommendations on the “confidential agenda of council”.

In the last annual report for Wits, from 2014, R19.7-million was spent on basic salaries for 21 executive staff members, not including additional benefits of up to R7-million.