Graduates
Students have seen their tuition fees rise to £9,000 a year Reuters

More than 1,250 vice chancellors and senior staff at top universities are earning more than £150,000 a year as rising tuition fees leave students with unprecedented levels of debt.

A probe into salaries at 29 of the country's best universities also revealed 4,220 staff pocketed more than £100,000 in the 2015-2016 academic year.

Some 1,254 earn more than Prime Minister Theresa May – over £150,000 – while the average salary and benefits package for vice-chancellors was around £257,000.

The figures were revealed by The Sun and come after students have seen their tuition fees rise to £9,000 a year.

The eye-watering salaries prompted Labour peer Lord Adonis to accuse staff of profiting at the expense of students.

He told The Sun: "Vice-chancellors and senior staff are enriching themselves off the back of student loans – it's a massive scandal.

"This is roughly £600m of public money and it's just 29 universities – a third of the total in the UK. They don't need to be paid half as much to do their job properly.

"Theresa May needs to cap their pay at £150,000 and use the money to help poorer students get to university."

Separate figures released earlier this month revealed vice-chancellors' salaries and benefits rose 2.5% in 2015-2016, which had in turn followed a 5.4% rise the previous financial year.

Dame Glynis Breakwell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bath, was the highest paid university head in 2015-2016, earning £451,000 – a rise of 11%.

The University and College Union earlier this year called for more scrutiny of pay and an end to so-called academic fat cats.

"Those at the very top in our universities need to rein in the largesse that embarrasses the sector and the government needs to enforce proper scrutiny of their pay and perks," said UCU's general secretary, Sally Hunt.

Umbrella organisation Universities UK said the salaries were "comparable to similarly-sized public and private organisations".

But the Department for Education has already this year called for universities to "demonstrate restraint in pay".

A spokesperson added: "We remain concerned about the substantial upwards drift of salaries of some senior leaders."