NEW figures reveal that the head of Southampton University is the third highest paid in the country.

Data released by independent regulator the Office for Students shows that Vice Chancellor Professor Sir Christopher Snowden's basic salary for 2017-8 of £423,000 was rated third in the country, after the University of Bath at £470,000 and the University of Cambridge at £431,000.

As reported university union members slated the salary, saying it "beggars belief."

Sir Christopher announced his resignation last year - while unions and students have campaigned for his replacement to be paid less.

But university chiefs defended his pay.

Philip Greenish, Chair of Council at Southampton University said: "We are now seeing clear evidence of the benefits of the strategy Sir Christopher has introduced at Southampton.

"This includes an increase in our satisfaction score in the National Student Survey, against the trend of other Russell Group Universities and improvements in all national and international league table positions.

"We also in a much stronger financial position to improve facilities for our students and researchers, including through a £300m public bond, secured thanks to his leadership, at a record low interest rate.”

The stats from Office for Students revealed the average basic salary of university leaders across the UK was £253,000 - a rise of 3.1 per cent on the previous year of £245,000.

Head of Solent University Professor Graham Baldwin earned £217,000.

Sir Christopher's total remuneration was £437,00 while Professor Baldwin's was £259,000.

The figures also show the total income for each university in 2017-8. Southampton University brought in £583m, while Solent's income was £118m.

The highest earning universities were Oxford at £2.2bn, Cambridge at £1.9bn and University College London at £1.4bn.

A statement from the Office for Students said the Office does not have power to regulate senior staff pay, but does have "a duty to take into account the value for money higher education providers offer for the public money they receive.

"For this reason, we publish detailed statistics about senior staff pay at higher education providers."

They added that "total remuneration means basic salary plus: performance-related pay and other bonuses, pension contributions, salary sacrifice arrangements, compensation for loss of office, other taxable benefits, non-taxable benefits, and payment of any other remuneration to the head of provider."

Solent University declined to comment.