As the UK Living Wage was increased by 20p to £7.65 an hour and by 25p to £8.80 an hour in London, the National Union of Students and Unison published data on the extent of low pay at British universities, which showed 12,592 university employees were paid less than the voluntary rate last year.
Some 80 institutions pay less than the Living Wage, which is set independently and is based on the amount required for minimum living standards, according to the data obtained from higher education institutions via the Freedom of Information Act.
Both bodies are calling for universities to become accredited Living Wage institutions.
Speaking at the start of Living Wage Week, Dom Anderson, vice-president of the NUS, said: “The higher education strikes last week displayed the understandable strength of feeling about the lack of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work in too many of our universities.
“This means that although we are celebrating Living Wage accredited universities such as Salford and Huddersfield, and universities such as Loughborough who have committed to the Living Wage for their in-house staff, our campaign continues,” he added.
According to the NUS and Unison research, the median lowest wage of staff in UK universities is under the Living Wage at £7.39
There are five universities having more than 500 staff paid less than the Living Wage and 39 universities with more than 100 employees paid less than the Living Wage, it adds.
Dave Prentis, general secretary at Unison, which has about 40,000 members working in higher education, said:“This research shows that while vice-chancellors are enjoying six figures salaries, many more university workers are at the bottom of the pay scale, struggling to survive on less than the Living Wage.
“The value of their pay keeps on falling, while the cost of basics such as food and fuel keeps on rising.”
However, universities claimed the Living Wage did not take into account the added benefits they offered, which included “a generous pension scheme, excellent sickness and maternity pay and above average holiday entitlement”.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, said universities offered employees an “attractive employment package and wage”.
“Universities have few problems recruiting and retaining staff at the lower levels of the pay spine,” Ms Dandridge said.
“This is in large part due to the excellent benefits package offered, particularly when compared with other local employers.”
Living Wage accredited universities commended by both unions include Leeds Trinity University, London Metropolitan University, St Mary’s University College Twickenham and the University of East London.
Several University of London colleges are also praised including Queen Mary, the London School of Economics, Birkbeck, Soas, the Institute of Education, London Business School, Goldsmiths, King’s College, University College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.