SCOTTISH universities have nearly 90 employees on their payroll who earn more than Alex Salmond, new figures show.
Statistics from the National Union of Students (NUS) show dozens of staff are paid more than £140,000 every year – the same as the country’s First Minister.
More than £4m in total is paid to university bosses with nearly two thirds of elite salaries belong to Edinburgh University alone.
Aberdeen has the highest single earner on £303,000 a year – 20 times more than the lowest-paid employee.
The average individual pay cheque is also an eye-watering £200,000.
Education chiefs insisted taxpayers only pay around 50% of payments with the rest of the cash generated through “private sources”.
But critics said the rates were an “embarrassment” and called on bosses to “rein in their pay and perks”.
As Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond earns a yearly salary of £140,847.
But NUS figures for 2011/12 show 88 university employees across the country earn up to twice as much.
Aberdeen University principal Professor Sir Iain Diamond is the highest paid university worker in the country with a salary of £303,000.
Other vast sums include £257,000 to Prof Anton Muscatelli from Glasgow University who is also a member of the Scottish Funding Council for Further and Higher Education who work to make it easier for people to get into further learning.
Around £240,000 is paid to Louise Richardson at St Andrews and £227,000 is awarded to Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea at Edinburgh University.
Pamela Gillies – the principal of Glasgow Caledonian University – commands a pay cheque of more than £180,000.
Of the 88 high earners Edinburgh University has 52 of these (59%) with the nine people earning between £160-170,000.
Bosses claim the higher rate is due to the recruitment of consultants who teach at the medical school – their salaries are then paid jointly by the university and the NHS.
Aberdeen and Glasgow University both have six people earning more than the First Minister.
Strathclyde University has four staff on £140k-plus and Heriot Watt and Glasgow Caledonian both have three.
Only the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – formerly the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama – have no one earning more than £140,000.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said: “Across our institutions the gap between the lowest and highest-paid is too large – with some receiving 20 times that of the lowest-paid university employee.
“Universities need academic autonomy but they should not have the freedom to pay such large salaries and to allow those gaps between those at the top end and the lowest-paid.
“Hundreds of millions of pounds of public money are quite rightly going into universities over the next few years.
“We must make sure this money is used on the front line – not on increasing already substantial senior salaries.”
UCU Scotland – an organisation who represents lecturers – added: “The lack of self-awareness from university leaders when it comes to their own rewards continues to be an embarrassment for the sector – especially when we consider the recent promises that their pay and perks would be reined in.
“This is why we are calling for the review of governance to redress the balance back towards collective responsibility and away from the idea that education is all about profit and loss.”
But Universities Scotland (US) who represent the principals of the country’s universities said it would unfair to compare the salaries to the likes of council bosses.
A US spokesman said: “Universities do receive a significant level of public funding but this is a minority of their total income with over £1.6 billion – or 56% – of the total coming from private or competitively won sources.
“As a result these salaries are not wholly paid for by the public purse unlike those in public sector organisations.
“The highest university staff tend to be senior clinical academics who are employed jointly by the university and the NHS – this is usually what accounts for salaries over £250,000 in the very limited number of cases this occurs.”