Jane Wills, professor of human geography at Queen Mary University of London, said academics risked forfeiting their right to advocate social change if their institutions did not adopt the living wage.
The wage – an hourly rate based on the amount needed to cover the basic costs of living – has risen by 20p to £7.85 an hour for staff outside London this week, 21 per cent higher than the £6.50 National Minimum Wage. Inside the capital, it is set to rise to £9.15 an hour.
“Values are meaningful only when they are demonstrated – in this case that means a decent wage for our cleaners, caterers and security staff,” said Professor Wills, who has researched the development and impact of the voluntary wage – set by the Living Wage Foundation – since it was launched in 2001.
Speaking at a conference in Oxford on 3 November at the start of Living Wage Week, Professor Wills will make the case for the universal adoption by universities of the living wage.
“Given the history of higher education’s contribution to society – in relation to teaching, research and civic life – the living wage is an idea that should fit easily with our shared values,” she said.
Evidence from her own institution, which was the first university to become a “living wage campus” in 2007, suggested that the benefits of moving to a living wage outweighed the costs, she said.
“Queen Mary went further than any other organisation when it decided to move its entire cleaning staff, previously subcontracted to an agency, back in-house,” she said.
Since 2008 all staff now receive a basic minimum package of 30 days’ annual leave, access to sick pay, an annually negotiated pay increase, and an employer-contribution pension scheme.
“These measures substantially improved the working conditions for the university’s cleaners,” said Professor Wills.