University staff should receive a 5 per cent pay rise in their pay packets next month - which could mean that the salaries of some academics will have climbed by more than 25 per cent over the past three years, employers said this week.
The latest increase is due under the final instalment of the 2006-09 pay deal, which guaranteed staff a rise in line with the retail prices index for September 2008, and no less than 2.5 per cent. The RPI figure was confirmed this week at 5 per cent - far higher than expected when the deal was signed in 2006.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) issued a statement saying that the three-year deal had given staff a total pay rise of at least 15 per cent, with some receiving much more through annual increments.
It cited the example of a senior lecturer on the highest grade below professor who was earning £39,935 in 2006. With three increments and rises, his salary would now be £50,569 - a 26.6 per cent pay rise, Ucea said. A lecturer on the most common grade in UK universities earning £32,490 would, after three increments, be earning £41,118.
Because the rise is far higher than originally envisaged, universities are "in the process of making difficult adjustments to budgets to decide how best to manage the financial impact", Ucea said. "To minimise the risk of job losses, some institutions will have to look at phasing or deferring implementation over 11 months."
Although most institutions have committed to making the award - which is payable from 1 October - in full, a handful have yet to decide. The University of Staffordshire said a decision about whether to pay in full would be made by the board of governors on 19 November. London Metropolitan University said its governors had passed responsibility for "determining the level and timing" of the award to its finance and human resources committee, which would convene at the end of October.
Meeting the 5 per cent rise would "place serious constraints on the level of future pay settlements and possibly pensions," Ucea added.
The Russell Group of research-led universities said that all its 20 members would honour the deal despite the "extraordinarily high RPI figure". It warned, however, that future pay negotiations could be tough when salary increases of up to 24 per cent are combined with pension costs and rising energy bills.
A bulletin from the support-staff union Unison issued this week noted: "One thing is for sure: next year will be a very tough pay round."
Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "The three-year pay deal that members of UCU fought so hard for has increased salaries by more than double what the employers originally wanted to get away with paying. It is a good deal (that goes) some way to addressing declining salaries." But she added: "Any attempts to claw back the value of the current deal will be seen by staff as yet another kick in the teeth and resisted by the union."
The University and College Union's national head of higher education, Malcolm Keight, and its head of equality and employment rights, Roger Kline, are to leave the union. Mr Kline has already left; Mr Keight will depart in December.